A study of the Montgomery Dam focusing on repair options and possible fish passage upstream will soon be released.

On a parallel track, Select Board member Alison McKellar has made a short film showing that she found alewives trying to swim up into the mouth of the Megunticook River at Camden Harbor.

Mike Burke of Inter-Fluve, the company hired to conduct the feasibility study by the town of Camden, said May 1 that the draft of the report is being finalized, and will be issued to town officials. He expects there will be a substantial process to come, involving stakeholders.

McKellar previewed a short film she made with filmmaker Josh Gerritsen at the April 23 Select Board meeting. The film follows her investigation into fish passage up the Megunticook River, and offers science-based advocacy for the restoration of fish passage and the river's natural environment. Dams were installed along the river to power diverse industries following the area's settlement in 1769. She said the river attracted the settlement, and before the area was named Camden, it was called Megunticook. McKellar discussed how dam inspections, insurance and maintenance are costly to the town.

The Montgomery Dam, overlooking Camden Harbor, was built to divert the river in order to turn the waterwheels of a grist mill, and later an anchor factory on the public landing. The natural path of the river was along what is now a walkway in Harbor park, according to McKellar.

In the film, she narrates her quest to find expert accounts or historical documents proving that alewives, a saltwater species, migrated up the freshwater river to spawn.

She persisted though she could not find anyone who would say they knew of alewives swimming up the river. McKellar not only found a handwritten account of an 1806 town meeting where townspeople wanted dam owners to open sluiceways to allow the alewives and other fish to swim up river to the lake, now called Megunticook, but the film shows her finding alewives trying to swim up into the mouth of the river at Camden Harbor in June 2018.

McKellar asked for the Select Board's support of a non-governmental fundraising effort, possibly in partnership with a nonprofit environmental organization, for the dual projects of fish passage and watershed restoration. Board members were supportive, but agreed to discuss the issue at a future meeting.

Dam study kickoff meeting

At an April 2018 meeting, Burke asked audience members to list four priorities regarding the Montgomery Dam and then asked volunteers to read their top priorities out loud. The dam is one of many built on the Megunticook River and is located behind several Main Street businesses. It creates a waterfall at the top of a spillway of natural boulders, which flows into Camden Harbor.

A wide range of responses came from Main Street business owners, town officials, a watershed restoration expert, a property owner on the Megunticook riverfront who helped organize communication among riverfront residents in regard to the Seabright Dam repair, and a representative of the Megunticook Watershed Association.

The top priorities from business owners were repairs to the dam to ensure water flows over the dam to preserve its aesthetics enjoyed by residents and tourists, and cooperation between those who value aesthetics and those who support ecological issues. Town officials wanted to see a reduction in flood risk and the costs of insurance and maintaining dam infrastructure, as well as a balancing of values. The riverfront property owner listed maintaining water levels for access to recreational use and to maintain wildlife in the river.

The Megunticook Watershed Association representative listed improving the historical record regarding fish passage as a top priority. A representative from an environmental organization said the organization is interested in a determination of evidence of fish passage in the past, along with a dam repair option that would potentially leave open the option of fish passage.

Questioning dam repair costs

McKellar initiated discussion of improving the environmental quality of the Megunticook watershed in December 2017 during a discussion on a bid of more than $70,000 to repair the Montgomery Dam. She secured an agreement to defer bid approval for repairs to the dam's concrete surface and repointing the granite block sluiceway while alternatives were considered.

Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell has reported that the Interf-Fluve study will position the town to receive funding from the Nature Conservancy and NOAA for watershed restoration work. During Select Board discussions about lowering or removing the Montgomery Dam, Caler-Bell said the town is committed to maintaining the East and West dams, which create Lake Megunticook, and the Seabright Dam, which impounds a section of the Megunticook River.

The Inter Fluve study proposed to include "project stakeholders, the public, and local, state and federal agencies," as well as data collection in the field, a topographical survey, hydrologic analysis, consideration of the history and aesthetics of the dam's features, and models for removing and lowering the dam.