CAMDEN — The Camden Select Board was accused of “pulling a fast one” on Tuesday, April 5 when it voted 4-0 to toss out two potential town meeting questions proposed by two separate groups of community members who had circulated petitions in the town concerning the future of Montgomery Dam.

“I think you have just thrown a bomb out here tonight,” said Ray Andresen of the Save the Dam Falls committee. “The 1,000 people who signed these petitions expected to see them on the ballot.”

Town Attorney Bill Kelly told the Select Board his recommendation that they put neither of the questions on the ballot. He said he had been doing some research on the issue and had talked to Maine Municipal Association about it.

Save the Dam Falls had circulated a petition to put a question on the June town meeting ballot that would prevent the removal of the Montgomery Dam.

Restore Megunticook had circulated a petition with the conflicting objective of putting a question on the ballot aimed at supporting the Select Board’s process in studying the issues of restoring the Megunticook even if that means removing the dam at some point.

Kelly said the two questions conflict with each other and would create a “ping-pong effect.” He said that since these do not have appropriations attached to them, they are essentially advisory items that gauge public opinion but would not bind the town to specific actions. Legally, he argued the Select Board serves as “gatekeepers” and has the discretion of not including the questions on the ballot.

Save the Dam Falls organizers including Ken Gross, Andresen and Tom Rothwell among others expressed outrage at the decision. They said it would disenfranchise voters and they questioned the timing, at the last board meeting that items could be finalized for the June town meeting warrant.

“Why did you wait till the last second?” Gross said. “This feels underhanded. It feels slimy and I do resent it. The people of Camden deserve better.”

“You have really taken the wind out of my sails tonight,” said Jean Brewer. “This is very disheartening. I don’t feel like I can trust any one of you. The people own the dam. They have a right to say something about it.”

Tony Grassi of Restore Megunticook was more supportive of the Select Board’s decision. He said his group would like to see it on the November ballot rather than in June. He also advocated for a citizen committee on the river restoration and dam issues.

Jeff Pittman of Camden said that, as a voter, he does not want to rush the issue. He said he wants to know more about the options and what the costs will be and does not want to rush to meet a deadline for the June town meeting.

Most of the speakers at the meeting, however, expressed disappointment and even outrage over the decision.

Chair Bob Falciani pushed back on statements that the board had waited until the last minute or that the town government has already decided it wants to remove the dam. He said it takes time to get legal opinions and to get things on the agenda and any major change would be voted on by the townspeople before the dam was removed.

Vice Chair Alison McKellar said she could understand the frustration more if there was a specific action being considered. “The dam doesn’t actually need to be saved at this moment,” she said.

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