Whether or not to destroy the waterfall at Camden Harbor is a momentous decision.

The Save the Dam Falls Committee is patiently building a case that there is nothing to be gained by removing the dam and destroying the waterfall, but its loss would be a devastating blow to Camden.

We are uncannily fortunate to have a factual basis for reference by all sides in this issue. How often in these times can we all agree on the facts?  The facts are presented in a straightforward and professional manner in the pair of Inter-Fluve reports, which are easily accessible online. The information in the reports is solid, although the conclusions reached in the “executive summary” are not actually supported by the facts. The first report, at 116 pages, is the shorter one, and is more specifically concerned with the Montgomery Dam (from May 3, 2019).

Removing Montgomery Dam has somehow become the keystone of “river restoration,” even though destroying the dam is unnecessary The dam is harmless when it comes to flooding and to fish passage, and at the same time it is at the core of the beauty of Harbor Park and all of downtown Camden.

The rationale for destroying the waterfall seems to come down to two issues: reducing flooding; and assisting fish to pass up the Megunticook River through a series of fish ladders to Megunticook Lake and Norton’s Pond. The cost and the rationale for fish ladders will be addressed in another Dam Straight column.

In today’s column we will point out an overlooked conclusion in the second Inter-Fluve report (July 31, 2021): if all three dams in downtown Camden (Montgomery, Knox Mill, Knowlton Street) are removed, the threat of flooding is not reduced at all. After spending some $14 million on “river restoration,” Camden will be no better off than before.

How can that be? Let us refer to the engineering report. In the Executive Summary, the authors note that “model results showed that dam removal alone may not result in lowering the FEMA base flood elevations below the Camden Public Safety Building that is located directly adjacent to the Washington Street Bridge.” On page 103, in the form of a map, and on page 102, in the form of a graph, the report shows that, in the case of a “100-year flood,” the amount of flooding at the intersection of Washington Street and Mechanic Street is not affected by whether the dams are present or not. You may need to reread that sentence. The water level is identical, whether the dams are still in existence or whether the dams are removed. This point is made repeatedly in both Inter-Fluve reports. Montgomery Dam, and now adding the Mill Dam and the Knowlton Street Dam, do not contribute to flooding.

This map, from the second Inter-Fluve report, page 103, shows in light blue the projected water level at the intersection of Washington and Mechanic Streets during a “100-year event.” Note that the projected water level is identical, whether the dams are removed or whether the dams are still in place. The conclusion is that the dams have no impact on reducing flood levels.

This chart, from the second Inter-Fluve report, page 101, indicates that the depth of water in a projected “100-year event” is unchanged whether the dams are present or whether dams are removed. The conclusion is that the dams have no discernible impact on flood levels at the intersection of Washington Street and Mechanic Street. Their removal will not contribute to flood safety.

Again, we point out that the people of Camden have a lot at stake in this decision. It is worth pointing out, as often as necessary, that Montgomery Dam does not and will not contribute to flooding in Camden, and if a fish ladder must be built, then fish ladders will need to be built all up and down the Megunticook. The Montgomery Dam is no barrier to the goals of flood mitigation or fish passage, and if those are indeed worthy goals, they are worthy because they do not cause the destruction of the most beautiful waterfall in Maine.

The people of Camden will finally get a chance to be heard at the ballot box, on June 14, 2022, when the petition “to protect, preserve, maintain and repair Montgomery Dam” will appear as a warrant article. Please respect Camden’s beauty, legacy, and character. Vote yes to preserve Montgomery Dam.

Ken Gross

The Save the Dam Falls Committee contributes “Dam Straight” columns concerning the preservation of the waterfall and Montgomery Dam. Ken Gross is a Camden resident and an employee of the Camden Public Library. His views are his own and do not reflect those of the library or the editorial position of the Camden Herald.

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