Session 4 – Fish Passage and Public Safety

Multidisciplinary Approaches to Leverage the Best Ecological and Economical Outcomes

Wednesday, March 31, 1:30PM-3:30PM

Ben Matthews, The Nature Conservancy

This session will explore the efforts that state agencies, non-profits, and academics have undertook to help support decisions around the selection, development and funding of fish passage restoration projects.  Many road stream crossings, derelict dams and inadequate fish passage facilities fragment our stream networks, restrict movement of wildlife, and increase the risk of flooding. The increased risk that climate change brings to this infrastructure provides a unique opportunity to identify and develop projects that benefit both public safety and ecological integrity. This session will showcase some of the tools available to facilitate these projects that benefit both people and nature by showcase some of the research, methods and tools available to help make informed choices about the ecological and economic integrity of Maine’s communities.

Session Schedule


1:30PM – 1:45PM
Culvert Resilience: What – Me Worry?

Charlie Hebson
Maine Department of Transportation

A video of this presentation is available

The expectation of increased rainfall and runoff associated with climate change has raised the question of how resilient MaineDOT’s culvert inventory is.  Put simply, is existing culvert hydraulic capacity adequate for future flows?  Answering this question is complicated by the fact that MaineDOT owns over 35,000 culverts less than 5-ft diameter.  A systematic assessment is bound to be at a fairly coarse “35,000 ft” screening level using methods that leverage MaineDOT’s highly developed GIS-based asset database.  Initial results suggest that in the great majority of cases, any required upsizing is largely incremental and thus can be accommodated within the established maintenance, project development and budgeting processes.  Of greater concern is upsizing anticipated for compliance with environmental fish passage requirements.  It is not unusual to see culverts upsize from 4-ft diameter corrugated metal pipe to concrete box culverts bigger than 10-ft span.  Such instances can have huge impacts on program budgets.

1:45PM – 2:00PM
Participatory Dam Decision Support: A Conversation-Starter for the FERC Hydropower Dam Relicensing Process

Emma Fox1 (Student), Sharon J. W. Klein1, Samuel G. Roy2, William Winslow3
1. School of Economics, University of Maine, Orono, ME
2. School of Earth and Climate Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, ME
3. Geospatial Science Center, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH

A video of this presentation is available

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)’s Integrated Licensing Process (ILP) for hydropower dams is complex, requiring considerable information and time for all parties involved. Access to information and participation capacity presents a dual-sided barrier to meaningful impact by non-regulatory actors. We developed a participatory, web-based Dam Decision Support Tool, intended for use by both individuals and groups, including decision criteria and alternatives relevant to FERC. The Tool is tailored toward a set of 4 hydropower projects (8 dams) coming up for relicensing on Maine’s Penobscot River. We tested the Tool at various stages of development from 2018 – 2019 with researchers, students, and dam decision makers in Maine. We find that the Tool supports learning for those unfamiliar with hydropower dams. Usefulness is a moving target, but we do find a perception amongst some regulatory actors that the Tool would enhance early public conversations about relicensing by establishing common understanding. The Tool is open source, open access, and free to use. It will be released on the University of New Hampshire’s Data Discover Center website ( in April, 2020.

2:00PM – 2:15PM
The Stream Crossing Grant Program and Stream Habitat Viewer

John Maclaine
Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Augusta, ME

A video of this presentation is available

In 2017 and 2018, Maine voters approved bond packages that included $5 million for stream crossing upgrades. These monies fund a competitive grant program that matches local funding for the upgrade of municipal culverts at stream crossings to improve fish and wildlife habitats, increase community safety, and build resilience into existing infrastructure. To qualify for a grant, crossing structures must be owned by a municipality, and sponsors can include local governments, conservation commissions, soil and water conservation districts and private nonprofits, or a collaboration thereof. This session will present several projects that were funded and their outcomes, highlighting success stories in restoring fish passage and enhancing storm and climate preparedness.

Decision Support Tools for Multi-objective Restoration and Public Safety Outcomes

Ben Matthews, Erik Martin, Dan Coker
The Nature Conservancy in Maine, Brunswick, ME

A video of this presentation is available

Decision support tools can leverage quantitative information to help inform restoration planning and focus scarce resources where they can have the most benefit. The Nature Conservancy, along with multiple partners and funding sources, has recently developed several Decision Support Tools that can help identify areas along our road networks that are priorities for both ecological restoration and infrastructure improvement. Our Statewide Barrier Prioritization tool identifies high value fish passage barriers, whose removal or replacement would re-connect critical freshwater habitats for sea-run and resident fish species by providing a heads-up ecologically focused prioritization that is scalable by geographic extent. Our Coastal Risk and Future Habitat Explorer tools allow stakeholders to examine the impact of sea level rise and assess coast flood vulnerability to identify exigent threats to community emergency and support services. Additionally, development of an Inland Flood Risk Tool is underway to expand this work into non-coastal communities to provide a better understanding threats of inland flooding may have to public safety. Utilizing these tools in concert with other decision support methods offers road managers and municipal officials the ability to cross reference at-risk road areas with fish passage restoration opportunities and access the diverse set of funding mechanisms available to tackle these multi-objective projects.

2:30PM – 2:45PM
Social Vulnerability and Decision Support Tools – A Case Study

Eileen Sylvan Johnson1, Luke Basler1, John Layman1, Mamadou Diaw1, Brian Greenberg1, John Layman1, Dan Coker2
1 Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME
2. The Nature Conservancy, Brunswick, ME

The impact of failed infrastructure, such as culverts, from storm events can have wide-ranging impacts from restricting fish passage to impeding emergency response. An important step in crafting adaptation policy is understanding the ways in which a community is vulnerable to increasing frequency of storm events, both in terms of vulnerable infrastructure and factors contributing to the increased social vulnerability of community members. In this case study, Bowdoin College faculty and students in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy examined the impact of failed culverts on social vulnerability. This presentation provides an overview of the role of social vulnerability as a factor in decision support tools and presents initial findings from a case study.

2:45PM – 3:00PM
I’ll be dammed! Public preferences regarding dam removal in New Hampshire

Natallia Leuchanka Diessner, Catherine Ashcraft, Kevin Gardner, Lawrence Hamilton
University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH

Decisions about dams, like other environmental conflicts, involve complex trade-offs between different water uses with varying human and ecological impacts, have significant impacts on public resources, and involve many stakeholders with diverse and often conflicting interests. Given the many upcoming dam decisions in New England and across the United States, an improved understanding of public preferences about dam decisions is needed to steward resources in the public interest. This research asks (1) What does the public want to see happen with dams? and (2) How do public preferences regarding dam removal vary with demography and politics? We address these questions using data from three random sample statewide telephone polls conducted in New Hampshire over 2018 that asked people for their preferences concerning dam removal versus maintaining dams for specific benefits—property values, hydropower generation, industrial history, or recreation. Respondent age, education, gender, and political party were tested among the possible predictors. We find that majorities (52% or 54%) of respondents favor removing dams rather than keeping them for industrial history or property values, and a plurality (43%) favor removal over keeping them for recreation. A plurality (46%) prefer keeping dams, however, if they are used to generate hydropower. Respondent background characteristics and political identity affect these preferences in ways resembling those for many other environment-related issues: women, young or middle-aged individuals, and political liberals or moderates (Democrats or independents) more often support dam removal. Education, on the other hand, has no significant effects. The results quantify levels of general public support for dam removal in New England, illustrating the use of public opinion polling to complement input from public meetings and guide decisions. More broadly, they contribute a new topic to existing scholarship on the social bases of environmental concern.

3:00PM – 3:30PM
Question and Answer Session


  • Charlie Hebson
  • Sharon Klein
  •  John Maclaine
  • Ben Matthews
  • Eileen Sylvan Johnson
  • Natallia Diessner