CONCORD — The cost to renovate and replace up to four fish hatcheries is likely $85 million, Fish and Game Department Commissioner Scott Mason told the Sununu administration’s panel reviewing capital budget requests for the next two years.
The agency asked Tuesday for state-backed bonds to support $30 million toward this effort.
In April, the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee agreed to use $55 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act grants to overhaul the hatchery system.
Mason stressed the $85 million was just an estimate of the total cost to rebuild the state’s system of six hatcheries, the youngest of which is more than 50 years old.
The state is currently conducting a $1 million feasibility study into what hatchery design the state should deploy for its next generation of pools to grow fish until they are mature enough to stock in state ponds and lakes.
The consultant is doing work on the renovation of the state’s largest hatchery, the Powder Mill in New Durham, which seeps into the Merrymeeting River and eventually feeds into Lake Winnipesaukee’s Alton Bay.
“We may discover it is going to be too costly to do the job at the current site and we may need to look at another location,” Mason said.
The Conservation Law Foundation in 2018 sued the state in federal court, alleging it was violating the Clean Water Act as it was responsible for toxic algae blooms that were choking off wildlife and degrading water quality in the area.
An independent report in 2019 found the hatchery was the biggest polluter of the river, responsible for 67% of the nitrogen and phosphorous pollution.
A federal judge has refused to dismiss the suit, prompting state officials to study how to improve water quality at and near the Powder Mill hatchery.
Mason said the state’s challenge is to make these improvements to comply with the new phosphorous limit of 12 parts per million, which the federal Environmental Protection Agency had ordered New Hampshire to follow.
“We believe this limit is the lowest in the U.S.A. We are doing some pilot studies now,” Mason said.
Mason said the next priority to improve or replace is the Berlin hatchery, which will be the next one to come under these new limits on phosphorous emissions.
Together, these two hatcheries make up 60% of the state’s capacity.
The other state hatcheries are in Twin Mountain, Milford, Warren and New Hampton.
Milford, the “youngest” hatchery, is 50 years old. Half of the six are more than 100 years old.
The ARPA grant would build these two new hatcheries, one with a capacity of 150,000 pounds and the other of 100,000 pounds.
Mason said the capital budget request would allow the state to build up to four hatcheries.
“Our goal right now is to have three new hatcheries and one rebuilt hatchery,” Mason said.
Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said his agency’s top priority would be for the state to purchase the four-story Granite State College building in Concord from the University System of New Hampshire.
The agency has long been located at Londergan Hall in Concord but had to relocate for asbestos to be removed.
Sununu’s capital budget panel completed its review of agency requests for state construction projects.
Following this fall’s election, the next governor will present a capital budget proposal to the Legislature next February.