Many conversations about Megunticook River dams and river restoration took place at an open-air event held by the Camden Select Board at Harbor Park Oct. 14.

The conversations were one-on-one or in small groups with engineers, biologists and others who either worked on the recently released Megunticook River Feasibility Report or were invited by town officials. The estimated attendance was 50 to 75 people.

The community group Save the Dam Falls had asked to place a table at the event, but were invited instead to attend the Select Board’s event as interested individuals. Ron Hawkins, a member of the group, hired videographer Isaac Remsen to record the event.

The Lincolnville Select Board was also invited, but the majority of the five-member Board declined to attend. Instead they are requesting a joint meeting with Camden’s Board to discuss policy regarding the east and west dams at Lake Megunticook. The two towns have a long history of sharing some of the costs for operation and maintenance of these dams.

Select Board Chair Bob Falciani welcomed members of the public to the Oct. 14 event at Harbor Park. “We want to encourage anybody from any perspective to chat with our friends including the Select Board. Avail yourself of this opportunity to ask these experts about a plethora of data they have worked on from the feasibility report which was issued only a couple of months ago in its final draft form.”

Mike Burke, principal author of the Montgomery Dam and Megunticook River reports, was kept busy with questions from members of the public. Some members of the public were clearly supportive of restoring the river to a more natural condition, removing dams and encouraging fish passage, others opposed to removing the Montgomery Dam, overlooking Camden Harbor and still others did not state their views.

Burke is a water resources and hydraulic engineer with Interfluve, with expertise in river restoration. Interfluve studied the Montgomery Dam in 2018 and released a report on options for the dam in 2019. In 2020 and 2021, the company studied the Megunticook River watershed from Camden Harbor to Lake Megunticook.

Burke recapped his experience at the event as having a range of conversations about Montgomery Dam, and about the influence numerous structures built in the river have on flooding, including the dams and Brewster Building. “Other conversations were about what the overall scope of the feasibility study is, what is the range of things that we looked at, how that happened,” he said.

Mike Burke of Interfluve, center, is asked about colored flags marking Harbor Park. The green flags show moderate predictions for how high sea level will rise at Harbor Park by 2050 during a storm tide. When someone mentioned sea level rise is not related to the Montgomery Dam Burke said the issues were independent. Photo by Susan Mustapich

Esperanza Stancioff with UMaine Cooperative Extension and Maine Sea Grant, saw some  confusion about “what dams are involved in this endeavor and what does that mean.” She heard a lot of questions about the dams, including whether the two dams regulating Lake Megunticook are involved.

“People can’t visualize what we’re talking about,” she said. She suggested models might be helpful. Stancioff  works on climate change impacts with Maine coastal communities “trying to meet communities where they are with the solutions we might find.”

Town Manager Audra Caler had a similar experience to Stancioff with the majority of the questions she got. “People can’t visualize what a change would look like, and they want to understand it more,” she said. “Any modeling or renderings we can do to better illustrate that is going to be important. It is hard to visualize something that doesn’t exist currently.”

Caler also “got feedback that people would like to see another one of these happen during a weekend or an evening.”

Town Manager Audra Caler, left, introduced engineers, fishery experts and others who work in areas related to issues covered in the Megunticook River Feasibility Report. Photo by Susan Mustapich

Brett Ciccotelli and Charlie Foster with Downeast Salmon Federation, based in Washington and Hancock counties, were on hand “as a resource on fisheries and habitat restoration,” Ciccotelli said. Both have been involved with numerous river restoration projects, including dam removals, fishway repairs and construction, and community outreach. Roy Hitchens, with a local chapter of Trout Unlimited, was also present to answer questions.

“We heard a lot of questions about fish. What fish were here, what fish would come back and how it would work,” Ciccotelli said. “One common thread is people want to understand exactly what’s being proposed. Oh, it’s seven dams, not one dam. Oh, these dams are being considered for this, versus that action. I think it was great for people to get that information.”

He was also asked where funding would come from and heard from people who don’t want to pay for this. He sees these conversations as helping people realize how much information already exists.

Foster also saw “uncertainty about what the nature of the project is, the timeline, the outcomes, the various dams involved.” He thinks this highlights the need for visualization tools, “where you can show to the best of your ability a 3D model or some other rendering that actually lets people see it. That cuts down on the anxiety about change and other aspects that can be detrimental to this project.”

From left, Charlie Foster and Brett Ciccotelli, with Downeast Salmon Federation, were at Harbor Park Oct. 14 to answer questions on fisheries and habitat restoration. Photo by Susan Mustapich

Parker Gassett, with Maine Sea Grant at the University of Maine, focuses on community and climate resilience, and is from Camden.

He talked to people with “a lot of enthusiasm about the prospect of sea run fish to Megunticook Lake” and those who found it helpful “to have one-on-one time to check in with everyone about the scope of the river restoration vision.”

“It’s really impressive that people are coming to the conversation having looked at this from different angles and a lot of them were familiar with the reports already,” Gassett said. He is also encouraged by “town commitment to be involved and civically engaged in a dialoge.”

Many conversations about dams, climate change, flooding, fish passage and more occurred during the two-hour event at Harbor Park Oct. 14 hosted by the Camden Select Board. Photo by Susan Mustapich

Select Board Vice Chair Alison McKellar had “good, substantive conversations, looking at all the different issues we’re trying to combine.” She spoke with a few people who disagree with her views in support of restoring the river to a more natural condition, yet found common areas of agreement.  There were conversations like that that were helpful and every other range of comments along the way, she said.

Carmen Bombeke, a structural engineer with Gartley & Dorsky, was also on hand for questions. She is responsible for much of the structural analysis in 2018 of buildings that would be impacted by removal of the Montgomery Dam, and more recently analysis of buildings impacted by dams further upstream for the river study.

Some questions from the public were pointed, while others took the form of back and forth conversations.

Ben Ellison of Camden asked Burke about the waterwheel and structures under the Brewster building and their impacts.

This led to Burke describing the river downstream of the Knox Mill dam around the Brewster Building as where the whole watershed is squeezed down into a narrow area. He sees it as “a particularly vulnerable spot because the surrounding terrain is really low and the public safety building’s right there.”

The water wheel and concrete structures taken on their own don’t seem significant but in that location they have an impact, Burke said.

Ellison said he built the water wheel in the late 1970s for a former owner of the Brewster Building and it was never put into operation. He asked about rain events that could stress this area. Burke talked about climate change scenarios, precipitation trends and the types of storms that potentially increase in magnitude and are “big enough to wreak havoc.”

Ben Ellison’s question, “why move the river?” starts an informative back and forth conversation with Mike Burke of Interfluve about evidence of the original channel of the Megunticook River, which is shown in the Megunticook Dam report as flowing down through the area between where the two are standing. Photo by Susan Mustapich

When Holly Rutland, who owns buildings on Main Street, asked Burke about keeping the Montgomery Dam, he said the study looked at range of options – some of which included rebuilding the dam, with fish passage options and partially breaching the dam.

Meg Quijano is owner of the Main Street building where her store, the Smiling Cow, is located. The building is one of several structures constructed on top of pilings over the Megunticook River and Montgomery Dam impoundment. A number of other buildings are also constructed over the river, including the Brewster building and Knox Mill.

She asked Burke about the options in the Montgomery Dam report, one of which was to restore the dam. She asked him, if that is an option, why are we being told there is no other option but to remove the dam by the town. “He said that is not his purview, because he just presented the report. He does not then tell the town the way to go,” she said.

Select Board member Matt Siegel, left, wearing a white baseball cap, was engaged in conversation with community members who strongly support preservation of the Montgomery Dam. Former Select Board member Anita Brosius-Scott, back row wearing a tan hat, thinks removing the dam is a no-brainer, and wanted to hear if there is information that might change her mind. Photo by Susan Mustapich

Hawkins is a member of Save the Dam Falls, who makes no apologies about setting aesthetics of the dam as a priority, but also made a point not to only talk to people at the event who share his views.

He saw “a huge amount of information was exchanged today” and “very pertinent questions got asked. “But unfortunately that information wasn’t shared with the greater public.”

“This kind of event is OK, but it didn’t reach a very large segment of the population.”  Having the event  in the afternoon on a workday, severely restricts the number of people who can be here, he said. “This same kind of conversation needs to happen in a much more inclusive environment.”

Anita Brosius-Scott, a former Select Board member and longtime chair and member of the town’s Energy and Sustainability Committee also came to the event to hear points of view different than her own. She does not get why some people “are pretty sold about saving the dam.  she said. “I’m here to better understand their point of view.”

Save the Dam Falls had a presence in Harbor Park Oct. 14, though not part of the town sponsored event. Photo by Susan Mustapich