Democracy can work wonders when locally elected representatives are open and inclusive, when they share their responsibilities with those whom they represent and do their homework in a logical sequence.

What happened when an inclusive, transparent, and logical process was recently initiated by the Bristol Select Board? Their dam was rebuilt, complete with a fish ladder, for a modest sum, paid for by a combination of local sources. A locally appreciated piece of town history was saved and the residents can trace a logical course of public decision making.

Compare this to the murky decision-making process in Camden.

Looking at past Camden Select Board meetings and records, little was explained in public meetings about the river or its dams when the board quietly decided to apply for river resiliency funding. It is incredible to learn that our Select Board decided to eliminate the Montgomery Dam even before it contracted with a firm, supposedly to learn about the situation on the Megunticook River.

This summer, nearly 1,000 people answered a questionnaire as to the future of our Montgomery Dam. Seventy-eight percent of the respondents wanted to keep the dam in its current configuration and a similar percentage wanted the decision to be made by the people of Camden. Only 13 percent preferred the dam’s removal.

Camden residents want to save the dam falls because it is central to Camden’s creation story. Our first settlers liked what they saw, a protected harbor with a free-flowing stream at its head, providing plentiful fresh water and an eventual source for power generation.

Here is what we know:

1. The Town Select Board with little public discussion entered into a contract with Inter-Fluve, an engineering company from Damariscotta that specializes in dam removal. In 2019, before the study had begun, some members of the board and town government had already concluded that the dam had to be lowered or eliminated without ever taking a vote.

2. Since late 2017 members of the Select Board publicly questioned the continuance of the dam, refused to repair it, eventually deciding to eliminate it, under the guise of making the Megunticook River more “resilient,” as defined in a federal program promoted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

3. The marriage of the Town Select Board, Inter-Fluve and NOAA formed a triumvirate that developed a report apparently to fit the Megunticook into criterion demanded by NOAA for a successful resilience award of millions in federal dollars.

4. However, the Inter-Fluve report does not substantiate that the Montgomery Dam causes flooding in downtown Camden. Rather, it makes it clear that the Montgomery Dam is not a principal cause of flooding.

5. The Inter-Fluve report did indicate that the Maine State Historical Society recognizes Montgomery Dam as being eligible for selection on the National Register of Historic Places, in total agreement with the adopted Camden Comprehensive Plan.

6. It would cost significantly more to tear down the Montgomery Dam than to repair it, on the order of $3 to 1 or $4 to 1.

7. The Inter-Fluve report does not adequately describe how (or if) the Montgomery Dam degrades the river water quality. Nor does it consider the longstanding and viable ecological setting as it now exists.

8. The existence of Montgomery Dam will not block the construction of a fish ladder if the town decides to pursue one. The more challenging and expensive ladders would be upstream of Montgomery Dam.

9. Montgomery Dam is part of Camden’s origins. It was part of the draw when Camden was discovered by Mr. Minot and other settlers back as early as 1771. Its precursors marked the heart of the downtown because it’s where the river meets the sea, providing an opportunity for power production.

10. Montgomery Dam remains the heart of Camden as surely as it did in the 18th century, or when it was carefully rebuilt 90 years ago. We honor the foresight of our founders as well as their blood, sweat and tears.

11. Ironically, the Select Board is attempting to make the Montgomery Dam central to its proposed resiliency improvement efforts, even though the dam’s negative influence hasn’t been substantiated.

12. The Select Board claims that opposition to their recommendation to eliminate the dam is premature, but it simultaneously admits that it will continue to pursue the dam’s elimination.

13. The Select Board has ignored the results of an opinion survey which shows overwhelming support for maintaining Montgomery Dam.

14. Those of us who are challenging the Select Board are also in favor of resiliency and measures to limit the dangers of flooding from Megunticook River.

15. A petition has been prepared to allow residents to vote for saving Montgomery Dam. The choice will be presented to Camden voters in June 2022. The petition was prepared because the Select Board continues its plan to remove the dam, based on faulty information, without an adequate examination of alternatives, and limited opportunities for public review and discussion.

We ask the board to consider the facts and to embrace the value of restoring Montgomery Dam as part of any improvement program on the Megunticook River. Going forward, we would welcome a discussion with the Select Board on how this might work.

Roger Akeley lives in Camden.