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Sandy River: Gravel removal and the hope for salmon

5 mins read
A group of farmers and politicians met Tuesday night to discuss legislation to allow for gravel removal from the Sandy River.

FARMINGTON – A group of 20 concerned farmers, landowners, and conservationists gathered for a meeting hosted by the Sandy River Watershed Association (SRWA) at the Farmington Municipal Building on Tuesday night.

December 2010 rains caused more erosion of Darren and Angel Allen's farm land on the Sandy River in Avon. "This has been happening since we purchased the property in 2000," Daren Allen said. (Farm photos courtesy of the Allens)

Conducting the meeting, SRWA president, Tom Eastler addressed the concerns over growing gravel beds and radical erosion along the banks of the Sandy River. Since 1999, farmers’ permits to harvest gravel beds and potentially save disappearing land from erosion have been denied by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The state’s reservations about mining gravel from the river include disturbing a potential salmon population that could be using the Sandy River for spawning in the coming years.

"Notice the fence in the water, it was 30 feet from the bank. Precious field and fertile soil being washed away," said Darren Allen of Voter Vale Farm in Avon.

State Senator Tom Saviello (R – Wilton) was in attendance to discuss LD 240, An Act To Allow the Removal of Gravel Bars in the Sandy River, SRWA’s proposed legislation for gravel removal along the Sandy River. Also present was salmon researcher Ron Joseph, who spoke on the logistics of repopulating salmon in the area. SRWA’s main concern was to develop counter arguments to past DEP and EPA objections to gravel harvesting.

SRWA believes gravel bed removal would have slowed the disappearance of precious farmland due to the Sandy’s notorious meanders.

“We’ve lost 25-30 feet of farmland every year,” said Angel Allen. Land at the Voter Vale Farm, in Avon, is being washed into the river.

DEP strategies in the past have focused on preventing human intervention, but SRWA’s members argue that removal of the river’s gravel will have little adverse effect on the environment. After years of studying the Sandy River, Eastler, a professor of geology at the University of Maine at Farmington, argues that if silt and sod aren’t being carved away from farmland then it won’t be muddying up the river after storms, providing clearer waters downstream.

Other members stated that gravel removal would be purely a preventative measure and not for monetary gain.While  the gravel itself wouldn’t be worth much, but the cost of removing it would be much less than the $250,000 of riprap that the DEP suggested farmers like the Allens use as an alternative.

More field is taken by erosion caused by the Sandy River.

The SRWA’s legislation is taking shape, with Saviello assisting the farmers in developing concerns and findings into a positive argument. The salmon population, which Joseph predicts will be traveling upstream in 2014, is a particularly sensitive subject that the legislation must confront as the river is an important part of their habitat. With Joseph’s help, the SRWA hopes to prove that removal of gravel will not effect the federally-protected fish so long as they have means to get over the many dams on their route upstream.

If the SRWA achieves a positive outcome in the Legislature, the farmers could begin gravel removal in September. As for the potential salmon population, all of those in attendance were optimistic that the species would eventually be fished in the Sandy again.

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