Nov. 18—AUBURN — If the water levels in the upper portion of the Androscoggin River near Lewiston Falls seem to be lower than normal lately, it's not your imagination.
Two suspects vandalized rubber bladders on the first and second spans of the hydroelectric dam owned by Brookfield White Pine Hydro on Oct. 8, according to spokesperson David Heidrich. The vandalism caused lower water levels on the upper portion of the river at Lewiston Falls, and a dramatically lower level was observed in the days following the vandalism due to damage assessment, he said.
Heidrich said Auburn Police Department is still investigating the incident and the suspects are still at large. Brookfield White Pine Hydro is offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the vandals.
Auburn Police Department was not immediately available for comment, but the investigation is still ongoing.
The lowest of the water levels over the past few weeks likely occurred during drawdowns so crews could assess damage and attempt repair of the bladders, said Heidrich. Unfortunately, the bladders are not repairable and will have to be replaced. Regulatory and resource agencies were immediately notified of the vandalism and temporary flashboards have been installed, he said.
"With the flashboards we have installed at the project, river conditions are close to normal except for being approximately six inches lower," Heidrich said. "Given the time of year, specifically the relatively wet fall season and looming winter months, replacement of the (bladders) will not occur until 2024."
The rubber bladders were installed in 2013 to replace flashboards, apparatuses which direct the necessary flow of water to turbines which generate electricity, Heidrich said. The bladders serve the same function as flashboards, but are more effective in changing water levels by inflating or deflating as necessary. Flashboards are designed to fail in certain conditions necessitating their replacement, he said.
"Given that the flashboards are slightly shorter than the rubber dams, the Androscoggin River upstream of Lewiston Falls will be about 6 inches lower than what has been experienced over the course of the last 10 years," Heidrich said.
Heidrich said the vandals were able to bypass existing security measures which included fencing, surveillance cameras and security patrols. He said Brookfield has since increased security by adding razor wire, metal mesh, additional cameras and additional security patrols.
Those with information on the incident are asked to call Auburn police at 207-333-6650 ext. 2067.
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