HALIFAX -- There is renewed debate concerning the future of Canada's oldest hydroelectric dam. While environmental groups are calling for the removal of the Milltown Dam in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, others say the facility is an important part of the economic and social fabric of the international border area.

Community leaders say the Milltown Dam, which sits alongside the St. Croix River, straddling New Brunswick and Maine, has been an integral piece of the border region since the 1800's when it began generating electricity.

"Well, it just started the community," says St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern. "The town just built around that dam. It provided a service for the community, and it grew from there."

In 2019, NB Power signalled that the aging dam would be decommissioned – a move that drew cheers from environmental groups, but not so much from community leaders.

"We're creating green energy here," says MacEachern. "We need New Brunswick energy; we can't be out of that market."

However, others say the river needs to return to its original state.

"Removing this dam really gets us to a much better place, environmentally," says Fundy Baykeeper of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Matt Abbott.

Abbott says a recent poll shows overwhelming support to remove the dam – a move that will see the return of millions of fish.

"If we are able to get fish up the river to all their natural habitat, we're looking at five to ten million fish coming and going every year," says Abbott. "So, that's really good for the river, really good for the Bay of Fundy and good for the Gulf of Maine."

MacEachern is skeptical of the poll's findings and says a developer is interested in refurbishing the dam, so it can operate for decades to come. However, the Atlantic Salmon Federation says refurbishment would be wrong.

"There is simply no case to keep or refurbish it… In North America today, there is momentum behind dam removals, large and small. Milltown is one example," said Atlantic Salmon Federation director of communications, Neville Crabbe, in a statement.

Meanwhile, the future of the Milltown Dam, and whether NB Power will proceed with its decommissioning and removal remains unclear.