A successful collaboration among a prominent Maine electric power generator and several local, state and federal stakeholders has led to the granting of a significant conservation easement at Indian Pond in Sapling Township, a prime outdoor recreation area at the headwaters of the Kennebec River.
As part of a settlement agreement related to its re-licensing of the Harris Dam in Indian Stream Township, Maine's largest hydropower project, FPL Energy Maine Hydro LLC, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, has granted a conservation easement on 1,278 acres, including 52 miles of shoreline, around Indian Pond to the State of Maine through the Maine Department of Conservation.
As a result, a shoreland buffer around Indian Pond, including extensive wetlands and wildlife areas, deep- and shallow-water fish habitats, recreational facilities and scenic landscape, will be protected from further development, according to state officials. The Somerset County area is expected to be an important part of Maine's eco-economy initiative, according to the Office of the Governor.
"Preserving so much shoreline and wetlands is a win-win situation for both the adjoining working forest and recreation economy and the area's premier wildlife habitat," Governor Paul LePage said, in announcing the easement, which was signed Wednesday, July 27. "This is the kind of highly targeted state acquisition that is enhancing Maine's expansion in the eco-economy sector."
"We are pleased to conserve these lands for the benefit of the people of the State of Maine as part of our agreement that allows our Harris hydro-generation station to continue to produce clean and renewable electricity" T.J. Tuscai, chief operating officer, NextEra Energy Resources, said.
Indian Pond, located southwest of Moosehead Lake, is 3,746 acres in area, 9 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, with a total of 64 miles of shoreline, owned almost in its entirety by NextEra Energy Resources. The pond has been designated by the state as "a wetland of special significance." Outside the conserved shorelands, the pond is surrounded by land owned by NextEra Energy Resources, Central Maine Power (CMP) and Plum Creek.
Commissioner Chandler Woodcock of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W) and Commissioner Bill Beardsley of the Maine Department of Conservation (MDOC) both lauded the granting of the easement by NextEra Energy Resources.
"The effort put into this conservation easement is testimony to how individuals, organizations and state government in Maine can come together and accomplish something that will be valued and used by generations to come," MDIF&W Commissioner Woodcock said. "What an extraordinary opportunity. Conserving this land for outdoor recreation as well as for all its other uses is a gift, and we urge all Mainers to honor and enjoy that gift."
"This is a strategic section of the Kennebec, a renowned destination for birders, an interface between hydropower generation and ecology," MDOC Commissioner Beardsley said. "It is a place of intrinsic value."
In 2004, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted a new license for the Harris Dam, which NextEra Energy Resources purchased from Central Maine Power in 1999. The Indian Pond conservation easement was one of the resulting licensing obligations resulting from a stakeholder settlement agreement negotiated as part of the license, in which NextEra Energy Resources agreed to donate the conservation easement on its property. The new license maintains the generation capacity of the Harris Project at 86 MW, making it the highest capacity hydro-generation facility in Maine.
"NextEra Energy Resources worked collaboratively with eight stakeholders to reach the settlement and to craft the terms of the easement," commented Kathy Eickenberg, acting deputy director for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) under MDOC. The stakeholders included the State of Maine, The Forks Chamber of Commerce, Kennebec Valley Trails, American Whitewater Affiliation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Maine Professional River Outfitters Association, and the Appalachian Mountain Club.
"From municipal to federal resource agencies to local sporting guides and outfitters, to national level recreation organizations -- it's the whole gamut of stakeholders," Eickenberg said. "This shows what a collaborative effort can do. It's a process that works. Everyone got value from it, and it assures that areas of important public value are protected and remain available to the public."
The BPL official said that "nationally, Maine is a leader in these kinds of settlements. You don't see this everywhere. It's successful here because we have the spectacular resources that bring people together."
Under the terms of the easement, the Indian Pond lands are "maintained in perpetuity in their undeveloped, natural state" and may be used for "educational uses, conservation purposes, and for low-impact public access and recreation that are consistent with back-country values and current uses." The easement will ensure an undeveloped shoreline buffer that ranges from 30 feet wide to more than 1,000 feet wide along the pond and that maintains the scenic value of the area, Eickenberg explained. No commercial timber harvesting will be allowed, she added.
NextEra Energy Resources, which retains the right to use the land for hydroelectric purposes, is also making a donation for easement stewardship to an endowment fund held by Maine Community Foundation against which the MDOC, which will hold the easement, can draw for easement monitoring.
Indian Pond -- A Unique Maine Landscape
The newly finalized Indian Pond easement will maintain and protect a special area of Maine that forms the headwaters for one of the great rivers of New England, according to MDOC staff.
The easement helps to maintain water quality and wildlife habitat and allows the development of significant outdoor recreational opportunities. It also creates a conservation corridor that links large areas of undeveloped uplands, wetlands, and undisturbed shoreline to conserved lands along the East and West Outlets of Moosehead Lake. In 2009, the Kennebec Water Power Co., owner of the Moosehead Hydropower Project, donated a conservation easement to MDOC on 355 acres abutting both sides of the East Outlet. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands owns a major portion of the shorelands abutting the West Outlet, including a 300-acre original public lot, and 440 acres acquired from Plum Creek in 1999.
The shoreline of Indian Pond exposes "a fascinating collection of geological formations," according to Dr. Robert Marvinney, Maine state geologist. The pond area once was part of the ancient edge of the North American continent, and formations in the area record the collision of a volcanic island group in the North Atlantic slamming into that ancient margin almost 500 million years ago, he said.
The pond and its tributaries are excellent habitat for wading birds and waterfowl and also has a rare plant population -- the swamp fly honeysuckle, a small shrub found in forested wetlands, according to Maine Natural Areas Program staff.
The northern end of the pond is shallow with an average depth of 20 feet, according to Eickenberg. That part of the pond has significant wetland areas, and supports an exceptional smallmouth bass fishery she said. Two eagles' nests, numerous loon nests and other waterfowl habitat exist at that end of the pond, which also is the least developed part of pond.
The southern end of the pond, which reaches a depth of 120 feet, is known for its cold-water fishing, particularly land-locked salmon and trout, she said. This part of the pond is the most heavily used section and has a picnic area and a 27-site campground with a parking area for 20 cars.
A regional snowmobile trail (ITS 88) traverses the adjoining lands on the east side. A Maine Huts and Trails ski trail is planned to meander through the easement lands and the adjacent working forest on the west side of Indian Pond. On the east side, abutting lands include working forests and a small area reserved for a back-country lodge, a component of Plum Creek's pending Moosehead Region Concept Plan.
Indian Pond is highly scenic, especially for paddlers and boaters at the north end who enjoy views of interesting wetlands and islands against the backdrop of Big Moose Mountain and Little and Big Spencer mountains, Eickenberg said. Indian Pond and the conserved lands offer numerous recreational opportunities, including camping, fishing, canoeing, boating, wildlife viewing, back-country skiing, hiking, and ice fishing.
Visitors can access Indian Pond and the newly conserved lands via dirt roads, either driving 5 miles on the Burnham Pond road, off Route 6 up the west side of Moosehead Lake, or from The Forks side, about 12 miles on the Lake Moxie Road to Indian Pond Road.
FPL Energy Maine Hydro LLC owns 23 hydro-generating plants in Maine, producing almost 2 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually. It is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC, a global leader in renewable power generation, including owning the largest portfolio of wind and solar generating plants in North America.
For more information about FPL Energy Maine Hydro LLC and NextEra Energy Resources, go to: http://www.nexteraenergyresources.com/home/index.shtml
For more information about the Maine Department of Conservation, go to: http://www.maine.gov/doc
For more information about the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, go to: http://www.maine.gov/ifw/