CAMDEN — Camden Public Library Trustees want to preserve the Olmstead-designed wall between Harbor Park and the Megunticook River, even if municipal officials pursue plans to remove the Montgomery Dam.

Town officials met with trustees Aug. 18 to seek their ideas on what the area surrounding the dam might look like, after it is removed. For some time, town officials have been showing a concept drawing of a post-dam scenario where the river runs freely, with part of the river coursing over the southeast boundary of Harbor Park, where the massive stone wall and lower pathways are now.

Town Manager Audra Caler said the Coastal Communities Grant, which is funding the design and engineering work, is for projects that restore coastal habitats and prepare for coastal storms, hazards, erosion and flooding.

“We’re looking to get engineering design plans out of this exercise,” Caler said. “We’re under some tight timeframes.”

Select Board Vice Chair Alison McKellar showed a video of a spring rain event in Camden, focusing on the dam’s impact on water levels in the Megunticook River from the dam impoundment up to the Bagel Cafe. Dam removal reduces the base flood elevation by the largest amount, she said.

Trustees Silvio Calabi, Kristen Smith and Marti Wolfe focused their comments on Harbor Park, which they oversee. None of the trustees expressed opinions about removal of the dam and seemed to agree this was out of their purview.

The three trustees and Board President Pat Jones agreed a second meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 25 should include a walk around the features of Harbor Park they and town officials are talking about either preserving, removing, or redesigning.

Wolfe strongly supports preserving the big, wide stone wall between the river and park, and questioned whether any part of that wall was vulnerable to sea level rise or flooding.

She quoted the Montgomery Dam Feasibility Report, published in 2019 by Interfluve, as stating 60% of the options for the dam maintain Harbor Park.

“It’s my job to preserve Harbor Park,” she said, describing the park as “in the crosshairs.”

“We need to preserve the Olmstead design and what Mary Louise Curtis Bok has done. It’s very difficult for me to endorse a concept that has a river running through Harbor Park,” she said.

She also wants to preserve Bok’s vision of green grass and squared stone at the base of the park. She sees the boat cradle as an element that has been preserved, noting this is a place where children like to play.

Wolfe would accept a stepped sea wall, that could account for sea level rise. “We need neat, clean and green lines,” she said. Calabi agreed he likes the grass lawn and a stepped seawall concept.

McKellar said this is useful feedback. “There is nothing incompatible between granite blocks and the intertidal line.”

Smith asked about rebuilding and preserving certain elements of the existing dam, while removing other elements.

Calabi wants to see any changes made to the seawall around the base of Harbor Park address predicted sea level increases. He talked about 1.5-foot and 3-foot sea level rise predictions. He supports increased focus on the intertidal zone beyond the seawall, where children like to explore at low tide.

When trustees were asked their opinion about connecting a possible walkway behind the Main Street buildings over the river to the Harbor Park wall, Wolfe said, “I don’t see that as my business as a trustee. I feel we’re responsible for the park as it was designed by the Olmstead Brothers.”

Dave Jackson, director of Harbor Park and Amphitheater since 2004, brought up the federal review process, under the National Historic Preservation Act. He said this could be triggered if town government accepts federal funds and obtains permits for a project to remove historic structures. This review process includes public comment, he said.

“The question in my mind, is do you seek the public comment before you go to voters, or do you seek it after, which could negate the whole process,” he asked.

Library Executive Director Nikki Maounis asked for clarification on whether dam removal was the only option town officials were considering and would discuss.

“Once you have the design for the complete removal of the dam, if the Select Board OKs it, that will be the only option that goes to a vote?” she asked. “I’ve listened to your conversations at the Select Board and I’m a little confused and sure others are as well.”

This would mean for the library crew that “we are never going to get to the level of detail of talking about a partial removal of the dam, or perhaps even what it would look like if we rebuilt the seawall,” she said.

Caler and McKellar clarified the vote would be a straight yes or no on one option, not a choice of option A or B.

“It’s unknown if the Select Board is going to think we have something ready to go to voters,” McKellar said. She also sees it as unlikely that the Board will put anything to vote that does not have the support of the trustees.

“We can’t put out something we can’t legally do,” she said.