In the 1990s, someone published a community organization manual about how to stop local governments from changing the landscape. It focused on only one main point: delay. Show up at public meetings and complain that decision-making was rigged; demand more studies; raise endless questions until town officials get fed up and the proposed project dies. I especially remember this one line: “Delay is victory.”

And it worked. Around the country, tiny but determined groups regularly delayed vital public works into oblivion. Their motives varied: some people wanted to preserve the view from their houses; others were concerned about property values or noise or traffic. A few believed that powerful forces were covering up dreadful risks or were in cahoots with contractors.

Until recently, journalists often provided oxygen to such groups by giving their views “false equivalency.” Here’s how it worked. Town governments would ask a reputable firm for feasibility studies. The consultants – highly qualified scientists, engineers, and other specialists – would present their findings at a public meeting. Angry opponents would then insist that the study was biased and glossed over terrible problems. The next day, everyone would read how all those fancy experts had been no match for Mary and John Q. Citizen, who raised serious doubts about the report.

Fortunately, false equivalency has gone out of style. Reporters are now more reluctant to amplify shaky claims aimed at derailing legitimate proposals. Everyone has an absolute right to express their opinions. But opinions are not facts. Just saying “I don’t believe you” isn’t the same as refuting hard evidence.

I thought about this recently as I listened to a few Camden residents harangue our Select Board. They seem to be following that old 1990s community disruption manual to the letter. At great cost to taxpayers, they want to “save” the Montgomery Falls Dam, a broken-down relic of our town’s long-abandoned industrial infrastructure. They claim – without facts – that preserving the dam is somehow “compatible with” addressing climate change and rising sea levels. They argue that alternative proposals are too “controversial” (like COVID vaccines?), as if their opinions are the same as real data. They complain that the Select Board is moving ahead without public involvement. “The process has been deeply flawed,” they write. “We, the people of Camden, have not been heard.”

Really? Since 2017, the Select Board has discussed the dam and related issues (like flood control) in open meetings at least a dozen times, probably more. Public comments were always welcomed. In 2018, it hired Inter-Fluve, a highly respected firm in Brunswick, to look at options for Montgomery and the falls. Last March, it organized three live online listening sessions about the dam itself, followed in June by three more “to solicit comments on removal of the dam and related changes to the harbor.” On October 14, the board sponsored an open-air workshop with Inter-Fluve, Gartley and Dorksy (structural engineers) and other experts to answer questions about their report, now expanded upriver as far as Lake Megunticook. Everyone was free to participate. No decisions about implementing Inter-Fluve’s recommendations have been made; nothing has taken place in smoke-filled rooms or behind anyone’s back.

What’s at stake here? Over the next 25 years, the Maine Climate Council predicts a three-foot rise in sea levels along our coastline. This will easily overtop the existing sea wall at Harbor Park. Something has to be done: the Bangor Daily News reports that rising seas have already cost Mainers more than $70 million in lost property values. But that’s only half the problem. Since 1900, rainfall in Camden has increased about 16 inches per year and will likely rise another nine inches by mid-century. Much of that rainwater reaches the Megunticook River, where it now pools up behind Montgomery and three other derelict dams. Removing these dams would lower the flood risk for as many as 94 homes and other properties.

Whatever proposal the Select Board ultimately brings to Camden voters, it must balance several urgent priorities. Designing a cost-effective plan to address climate change here ranks high on the list. Restoring the Megunticook River to something like its natural course is a key part of that plan. Highlighting our industrial heritage should also be close to the top — not least because it reminds us of who we are and how hard other people worked to get us here. Patching up Montgomery Dam with taxpayer money until the next flood isn’t a serious option.

Robert Wasserstrom taught human ecology at the Columbia University School of Public Health in New York. Before retiring in Camden, he spent 30 years working in the energy industry.