The Camden Select Board released the 267-page Megunticook River Feasibility Report Aug. 24, which examines flooding patterns, dams and dam removal, fish passage and river restoration.

Town Manager Audra Caler described the report as a project funded with a National Fish and Wildlife grant “to look at the entirety of the Megunticook watershed and options for better managing the watershed into the future, including flood resiliency and habitat restoration.”

Among the report’s goals and objectives describes “a successful initiative” as something that “will improve flood and community resilience, reduce infrastructure management needs, restore habitat connectivity and ecosystem health, and provide habitat for native migratory and resident fish and wildlife. Further, it will enrich community values and experiences through enhanced public access and use, educational value, acknowledgement of town history, and landscape aesthetics.”

The report covers 3.5 miles, from the mouth of the Megunticook River near the Montgomery Dam up through Lake Megunticook. It was delivered to the town Aug. 23 and is available on the website camdenmaine.gov.

Caler described the impetus for the major study. Around the time she began as town manager, and some new board members were elected, “a lot of the dams were at the point where they needed significant investment to repair gates and leaks, structural issues or issues with their operation, that could not be ignored,” she said.

The report “gives clear recommendations to the town for different options for what we can do to better manage different portions of the watershed,” according to Caler. Additional work on designs for the Knox Mill dam and impoundment, and Knowlton Street dam and impoundment, is continuing, and will be done in a month, or at least by November, she said.

She recommended the Select Board discuss the study at a future meeting, once “members have had a chance to read the report or familiarize themselves with findings and recommendations.”

She also suggested linking the report to a capital planning process. She said it is a good time for the board to look at old engineering reports it has on the dams and then look over recommendations from the new report to assess what they want to do and when.

Select Board Chair Bob Falciani suggested the board discuss the report in September, at a special board meeting, possibly with specialists involved with the report to answer questions. He said he had read an earlier draft, as did Camden resident Tony Grassi.

Board Vice Chair Alison McKeller explained the report has gone through a lengthy review process by agency partners who have reviewed and provided comments, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Fish and Wildlife, which provided $150,000 to conduct the study, and the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “A huge part of this is the climate aspect,” she said.

She hopes people will be interested to learn about the funding entity for the feasibility study — the National Coastal Resilience Fund — a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and NOAA.

The Coastal Resilience Fund focuses on “projects that both restore habitat and protect communities from coastal flooding using nature-based solutions,” McKellar said. “They fund projects at multiple stages. They do these broad assessments with the idea of choosing projects that are highly likely to receive subsequent funding.”

She described Coastal Resilience funding as having bipartisan support through multiple federal administrations and targeted towards proactive actions to reduce flooding risk, rather than cleaning up after disasters.

Several Camden residents commented on the study.

“The sooner you get information out to have the public digest it the better,” said Stephanie Smith. She mentioned the issue is a “hot topic.” She found page 179 of the report very helpful for going through all of the options and pros and cons. “Once you understand the core principals, we can save money, make a natural waterfall, reduce staff time. It makes all the sense in the world to me,” she said.

Ray Andresen said he lives on the other side of the harbor and gets the benefit of hearing the waterfall all the time.

“It’s one of the treasures of this town,” he said, adding he’s a little opposed to getting rid of the Montgomery Dam.

Andreson asked for the town’s costs for the Montgomery Dam these past 30 years, and about a survey going around town from College of the Atlantic that asks about the removal of three dams, not just the Montgomery. He asked if there were plans to remove three dams.

McKellar explained the survey is part of a research project being done by a student from College of the Atlantic about public attitudes towards dam removal. The survey is not affiliated with the town, she said.

The Megunticook River report recommends three dams in the downtown are good candidates to consider removing, she said, while the three upper dams have never been considered for removal and are candidates for fish passage.

More information will be available when the board begins evaluating options, including maintenance costs for the dams, according to Falciani.

If the board decides to send any option for Montgomery Dam to a public vote in June, they would have to make that decision in March, he said. Before that, there would be a public hearing and “plenty of opportunities for people to express their questions, concerns or plaudits.”

Referring to the Megunticook River report, Grassi said important questions are “understanding the impact on the watershed and our ability to fund,” as well as sequencing of the project.

“Over what time might it be executed, 1 year, 2, 10?” he asked.

He mentioned information at the back of the report about costs, saying there is “considerable variability depending on which strategy you pick,” ranging from $2-3 million dollars for a given dam to $5 million.

Grassi supports the town looking forward and thinking about flood control.

“Every time we turn around there’s another example of serious flooding where there never used to be flooding,” he said.

Montgomery Dam and Harbor Park

McKellar reported on a recent meeting with representatives of town government and the Camden Public Library, regarding designs for removing the Montgomery Dam and impacts to Harbor Park.

She, Caler and Board member Matt Seigel met Aug. 18 with Library Executive Director Nikki Maounis and Trustees Silvio Calabi, Kristen Smith, Marti Wolfe and Board President Pat Jones. A second meeting is planned for August 25.

McKellar showed a basic diagram of the dam, which was used to make sure Library trustees and town officials were clear on what components of the dam or park they were discussing.

Components of the Montgomery Dam are under discussion by a task force of town government and library officials.

She said the group showed interest in recognizing sea level rise, and that some things might need to change, but wanted to explore saving the area of Harbor Park beside the massive stone wall dividing the the river and waterfall from the park.

Since June, the town has been using a concept drawing of the Megunticook River at Montgomery Dam, which depicts complete removal of all components of the dam. In the drawing, the river flows over the lower areas of Harbor Park. The Montgomery Dam Feasibility Study completed in 2019 posits this area was the original path of the river before Camden’s dams were built.

McKellar used a pointer to go over the dam diagram. Referring to “what we kind of agreed on,” she talked about asking the engineers if there is a solution where the dam gate is removed, but instead of allowing the river to flow over a section of the park, to leave part of the wall in place. She also talked about modifying the bedrock beneath the dam current spillway, to allow the river to descend “in a cascading way.” She indicated this leads the river away from the wall, but then loops back towards the stone boat ramp at the bottom of Harbor Park.

She showed some images of a stepped seawall that town officials and trustees talked about. She mentioned granite cut stone, and not the sandstone shown in the drawings, is preferred by trustees. She described a stepped sea wall that would provide access to the shore at low tide and is designed to accommodate sea level rise and flooding.

Images of a stepped seawall were shown at the Camden Select Board meeting. Library Trustees are considering a stepped sea wall made of cut granite that would create a boundary between park and ocean, but also accommodate flooding from sea level rise.