CAMDEN — Results of a survey regarding public opinion on preserving the Montgomery Dam were released Oct. 27.

The survey was taken from Sept. 8 to Oct. 11 by Camden residents, locals, businesses and visitors in both online and paper formats, according to Emily Lusher of Rockport. Lusher conducted the survey and cites her background of 30 years of experience in research.

Camden’s Town Manager Audra Caler, Select Board members and the Save the Dam Falls Committee were informed of the survey in advance and invited to participate, according to Lusher. She said she offered her work in preparing and tabulating the results as a volunteer, and donated her labor and expertise.

In response to the survey offer, the Select Board in an email from Vice Chair Alison McKellar, declined to discuss the offer saying the survey would be premature, according to Lusher. Save the Dam Falls Committee endorsed the survey.

Town officials, including Caler and Select Board members, have been working on a plan for more than a year to send a ballot question to Camden voters on removing Montgomery Dam overlooking Camden Harbor.

The local Save the Dam Falls Committee recently asked the Select Board to put on its agenda a citizen petition question for Camden voters about preserving the dam.

Lusher said Oct. 28 that she sent the town a draft of the survey, was open to changing questions and would have been delighted to work with the town.

“With all my experience in research, I thought this was a way I could contribute,” she said. She had hoped the town would have wanted a survey to get input from townspeople and that her survey would give people a chance to express their opinion, whatever it was. She clarified she is not a member of Save the Dam Falls Committee.

Town Manager Audra Caler had a different view of the survey and said the town offered to work with Lusher.

“Lusher wasn’t interested in working with the town to develop questions in a format that would have provided the town with more useful feedback,” Caler said Oct. 28. “The survey framed the questions in a manner that exacerbates common misconceptions as opposed to helping understand what is important to Camden residents.”

Caler said she reached out to a professor from Bowdoin who was willing to work with Lusher to develop questions that would have provided useful feedback. “Unfortunately, Ms. Lusher was determined to move forward with the survey she developed on her own without input from anyone who could have used this type of information for decision-making purposes,” Caler said.

Lusher released the survey results Oct. 27 and further information on the data and methods of making the public aware of the survey.

A total of 995 surveys were completed. Of the total number of people responding to the survey, 42% were Camden residents, 19% were locals who work in or visit Camden and 35% were visitors. There were also respondents who fit more than one category.

Respondents were asked if they were aware of the waterfall at the head of the harbor. Those unaware were asked not to complete the survey

The survey questions and responses are as follows:

When asked for their opinion on the statement “the waterfall at the head of the harbor is an important feature of the harbor landscape, 84% strongly agreed, 10% somewhat agreed, 2% had no opinion, 3% somewhat disagreed and 2% strongly disagreed.

A total of 86% of respondents were “aware that the waterfall is created by a dam on the Megunticook River as it flows into Camden Harbor.”

Among residents, 96% were aware of the dam. Among visitors, 70% were aware of the dam.

Respondents were presented with three options for the dam laid out in the Inter-Fluve report:

78% prefer the dam be restored in its current configuration, 8% prefer the dam be rebuilt at half its current height, and 13% prefer removal of the dam.

The percentage of visitors who prefer the dam to be restored was higher than for residents: 88% of visitors responded they prefer the dam be restored, while 67% of residents responded they prefer the dam be restored.

People were asked who should determine the fate of the dam. “Almost all said that the voters of Camden were primary,” according to Lusher.

The question had multiple options. Responses were as follows: voters of Camden, 95%; Library Trustees, 23%; Camden Select Board, 18%; Town Manager, 10%.

Respondents were also asked for comments. “Many of the comments emphasize to ‘let the people decide’ and to consider the decision carefully,” according to Lusher.

People who preferred removal of the dam focused their comments on three major topics: “That the dam does not create the waterfall and it would still be beautiful with water flowing over the rocks – different but still attractive,” “restoring the natural watercourse and allowing fish passage,” and “flooding and future environmental concerns.”

People who prefer restoration at current height or rebuild at half height commented: “Please don’t remove it, it would be sad to see it gone,” “it is part of the charm, history and uniqueness of Camden,” and “it is a tourist attraction drawing visitors.”

The survey was announced in a press release to local media and on Facebook. Surveys were available at five local businesses in Camden and at a table Save the Dam Falls staffed on Main Street Oct. 9 and 10. They were also given to Select Board members to distribute, Lusher said.

Lusher’s work in market research for over 30 years has included management of worldwide research projects, research in technology marketing with IBM, and as a freelance consultant for the travel and tourism and consumer food products industries.

Respondents to a survey of opinions on the Montgomery Dam were asked for one word that described the waterfall. The top 50 words are shown in the following “word cloud.” Only four of the words supplied were associated with negative opinions. Courtesy of Emily Lusher