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November 15, 2018

County, town moves kick off $4.9M Skowhegan Run of River project

Courtesy / McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group
Courtesy / McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group
A rendering of the planned $4.9 million Run of River whitewater park in the Kennebec River Gorge in Skowhegan. The project can now begin its lengthy study and permit process, thanks to a $40,000 grant from Somerset County and $25,000 from Skowhegan.

SKOWHEGAN — The proposed Run of River Whitewater Recreation Area can begin the lengthy study and permit process necessary for the $4.9 million project with a $40,000 grant from Somerset County.

The money from the Somerset County Tax Increment Financing Committee and Somerset County Commissioners, combined with approval from selectmen Tuesday of spending $25,000 of money raised, will pay for field data collection in the Kennebec River Gorge that will begin the permitting process.

"Because this type of project has not been permitted before in the state of Maine, the permitting process could take up to two years," said Kristina Cannon, Run of River Committee member and Main Street Skowhegan executive director.

The first step will be computer-generated 3D hydraulic models created from the data, which will be used for fisheries review, a requirement by state and federal agencies.

The data will also include a survey of the riverbed and an inspection of the gorge to determine the location of debris from the railroad bridge that collapsed during the April 1987 flood. The data collection will happen within the next eight weeks.

Permits required by state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are expected to cost $180,000.

The Run of River Committee is applying for grants and researching other possible funding sources with the intention of beginning permitting as soon as possible, which will allow construction to begin in 2021, at the same time a fish passage is being built at the Weston Damm just upriver, and water levels are low.

The whitewater kayak park is expected to generate $6 million in revenue in the region in its first year, according to market research studies, and up to $19 million by its 10th year.

Gaining traction

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
The Weston Dam, just above the area of the proposed Run of River whitewater park in the Kennebec River Gorge.

Final design of the park and construction of three whitewater features in the river, access trails, terraced seating on the bank and removal of the railroad bridge debris from bottom of the gorge is expected to cost an estimated $4.96 million.

The town has reserved $1.4 million from the Sappi paper mill TIF district, with the remaining $3.56 million to be raised by the Run of River Committee.

"Fundraising for Run of River is gaining traction, and it's so exciting," said Cannon in a news release announcing the county grant. "We are thrilled that the county TIF committee recognizes the value of the proposed whitewater park and trail system and the positive impact they will have on recreational tourism and economic development in the region."

"We were happy to be able to help with the Run of River project, and we look forward to seeing it completed," said Newell Graf, Somerset County commissioner.

The $40,000 from the county brings the total raised for Run of River in the last six months to $93,000. This includes a $25,000 grant from the Quimby Family Foundation, a $25,000 matching gift from a Maine Community Foundation Donor-Advised Fund, and $3,000 raised from Skowhegan River Fest events.

"We still have quite a bit of money left to raise, but the momentum is building and we're up to the challenge because this an important project for the town, the county, and the state," said Cannon.

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