The Select Board postponed bid selection Dec. 5 for a major repair to the Montgomery Dam, in order allow more time for discussion about environmental impacts.

The Montogomery Dam is in downtown Camden, behind the Smiling Cow and Camden Deli, at the top of the falls that overlook Camden Harbor. It is the last dam on the Megunticook River before it meets Penobscot Bay, or as Select Board member Alison McKellar pointed out, it is the first dam that stops fish from swimming upriver.

At the June town meeting, voters approved borrowing for infrastructure improvements, including up to $50,000 for the Montgomery Dam. The repair involves resurfacing the top of the concrete dam, and repointing the granite blocks along the sluiceway. The town of Camden solicited bids for the repair, and one bid was received from Knowles Industrial Services Corp., for repairs estimated to range from around $71,000 to $86,000.

McKellar asked for more time to consider the environmental impacts of the dam. She made it clear that her questions solely involved the Montgomery Dam, and did not include the East, West and Seabright dams that maintain water levels in Megunticook Lake and River.

She described the purpose of Montgomery Dam as aesthetic. Wastewater Superintendent David Bolstridge confirmed that this is the case. Board member Marc Ratner asked why the dam was built. Bolstridge explained the dam originally generated energy, but no longer does.

From an environmental perspective, the Montgomery Dam stops all fish passage, McKellar said. She would like to know more about the pros and cons of keeping the dam, before commiting to another 100 years of blocking fish passage. "There used to be alewives and salmon on all of these rivers," she said. "In 1806, the people of Camden petitioned the dam owners to install fish ladders, because people remembered what it was like when fish swam up there. That got tabled," she said.

Two hundred years later, the current Select Board has an opportunity to revisit this decision, according to McKellar. Before deciding to repair the Montgomery Dam, she asked for more time to consider the impact, and suggested the bid approval be tabled.

McKellar pointed out that there is a connection between dams, environmental damage to rivers, and an increase in pollutants in rivers that contributes to global warming. She asked if the river would still cascade over the rocks down to the harbor if the dam were removed. She also spoke about installing fish ladders on the upstream dams.

McKellar asked the board to consider what it can do to make the river healthier, and pointed out that the Megunticook is on a state list of impaired rivers.

Board Chairman John French pointed out that Camden voters approved the repair at town meeting.

Board member Robert Falciani pointed out that any discussion of removing the dam would have to involve the cost, which could be significant.

Board member Jenna Lookner mentioned economics in the downtown area built around the waterfall, including the name of the business Camden Falls Gallery. She supported the idea of a discussion about the Montgomery Dam that included stakeholders in the community.

Lookner said she supported restoring a natural fish run, and cited the elver run in Damariscotta, saying it could be a tourist attraction.

There was also mention of soils that build up behind dams, contaminants in those soils from industrial uses, such as mills that operated on the Megunticook River, and further information needed on soil buildup behind the Montgomery Dam.

Board members voted 4 to 1 to table a decision on the bid award to repair the Montgomery Dam, stating that there was time to further discuss the matter, as the repair is scheduled for spring 2018. French cast the sole vote against tabling the bid award. Board members agreed that the repairs can be rebid, if needed, without delaying the work.