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Dam Removal

It's about rebirth, not destruction.
Fly Rod & Reel    April 2002

Forty miles east of Ft. Halifax, the proposed removal of the West Winterport Dam on Marsh Stream is eliciting similar reaction. The four-mile-long impoundment is depriving brook trout and Penobscot River salmon of important spawning and rearing habitat. Such a liability is this dam that the owner gave it to Facilitators Improving Salmonid Habitat (FISH)--a river-restoring group hatched by the Maine Council of the Atlantic Salmon Federation. Now Winterport is threatening to take it by eminent domain, a move that residents may find unappetizing because it would require the town to pay fair market value of $50,000 and assume the far greater expenses of repair, maintenance of the thoroughly inadequate fishway and liability. Public hearings have been ugly. Herewith, the most representative expressions of dam logic mailed to FISH in defense of the dam: "Mother Nature needs to be left alone."

"The earth is all we have, and sometimes it's honestly much better to leave things as they are."

"You might as well personally take a bag of explosives and literally destroy every bass, pickerel, catfish, eel and the many turtles and accompanying fowl that use the waterway . . . bald eagles . . . Canadian geese, hawks and falcons, and the multitude of ducks and herons."

"A family of ducks have been back every year to lay and raise their young just above the dam."

Rodman Dam, a vestigial organ of the Cross Florida Barge Canal aborted by President Nixon in 1971, doesn't even have an alleged purpose. It just sits there, plugging up 16 miles of Florida's Ocklawaha River and blocking travel routes of bears, turkeys, bobcats, Florida panthers and countless other species that need to move between the St. Johns River Valley and the Green Swamp. To maintain Rodman Reservoir—a vile, six-foot-deep, 9,000-acre stew of herbicides and decaying and sprouting alien pond weeds—taxpayers must spend more than $1 million a year. In "return" their shrimp, crabs and marine fish get deprived of vital nutrients, and their striped bass, shad, channel cats, eels, mullet and manatees get cut off from the sea.

Forty-six environmental groups organized as the Alliance to Restore Ocklawaha River want the dam out. Every Floridian with even rudimentary appreciation for natural ecosystems—even Governor Jeb Bush—wants the dam out. But last year Sen. Jim King (R-Jacksonville)—the majority leader who tools around the impoundment on a jetski—derailed the project. In this mischief his enabler was none other than a 1,700-member largemouth-bass-fishing organization called Save Rodman Reservoir, Inc., which sponsors the annual "Save Rodman Bass Tournament" and gets free office space from the City of Palatka. President Ed Taylor—who organizes for-profit bass tournaments when he's not working to "SAVE Rodman From Evil Destruction," as his card puts it—has told me and other reporters that Save Rodman Reservoir has the blessings and support of Operation Bass, Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, Ducks Unlimited of Florida and the Florida Bass Federation. But this is a half-truth; Operation Bass wants the dam out, and DU has no position.

In 1999 the Save Rodman Bass Tournament weighed in its all-time record poundage. That was the year one of the 174 competing bass boats, violating no rule, left the reservoir via the Buckman Lock and traveled down the river that Sidney Lanier, who negotiated it by steamer soon after the Civil War, called: "the sweetest water-lane in the world, a lane which runs for more than a hundred and fifty miles of pure delight betwixt hedgerows of oaks and cypresses and palms and bays and magnolias and mosses and manifold vine-growths." Twenty-seven miles down the Ocklawaha the two-man team caught 23.27 pounds of bass, swung their boat around and raced 27 miles back to the reservoir, arriving in time to win the tournament. Somehow that part of the story never made it into Save Rodman Reservoir's newsletter.


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