INDIAN ISLAND — Bill Towsend is an old man now, at 84, but steady enough on his feet to walk down the muddy bank of the Penobscot River and watch as excavators smashed the defunct concrete fishway of the Great Works Dam.
“I am so excited to listen to the sound of those jackhammers whacking away at that concrete,” he said on Monday as he observed the first day of a five-month project to remove the dam. “This is a day I knew would come, but I didn’t know when.”
Townsend, a leader in salmon habitat protection, was a middle-aged man 26 years ago when he launched a fight against a proposed hydroelectric dam at Basin Mills, just downstream from here. The federal government’s decision more than a decade later to kill that project set in motion an ambitious plan for the river’s revival.
Although decades in the making, Monday’s events marked the official start of a $62 million effort to remove two dams and improve fish passages at two other dams.
The project is viewed as a model for other restoration efforts in the nation because of a collaborative approach involving environmentalists, hydro power companies, the federal government and the Penobscot Indians.
The terms of a multi-party agreement will allow power companies to increase power generation elsewhere in the river watershed so there will be no loss of power production.
“It’s really a great day for America and a great example for anyone who believes anything is possible,” said Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, at a news conference on Monday on the riverbank in the town of Bradley.