The Select Board and town manager in Camden have wanted to get rid of the Montgomery Dam for several years. To them, it’s in disrepair, costly to maintain, and impedes the free flow of the Megunticook River. But they’ve used subterfuge and disinformation to get the dam removal job accomplished.

Many Camden residents agree with the Camden’s Comprehensive Plan, signed by the Select Board in 2017, which recommends the Montgomery Dam for addition to the National Register of Historic Places. In a way, the dam is our Plymouth Rock, a foundational element during Camden’s earliest settlement as far back as 1791.

The first dam at the Montgomery location promised power and prosperity to our earliest inhabitants. Its significance was noted and accepted by Olmsted when he worked with Camden to design Harbor Park. Since then, the park and the dam have been joined at the hip.

But in 2017, the Select Board decided it had had enough of the Montgomery Dam. They used the money allocated for repair of Montgomery Dam to fund other projects. It had learned of a federal resiliency program and decided that it was a perfect way to eliminate the dam, while appearing to improve the Megunticook River by engineering it back to its original condition. All they had to do was meet the grant requirements; Montgomery Dam’s future was threatened from that point in time.

Here are some prime examples of the Select Board’s faulty representations about Montgomery Dam and its relationship to the Megunticook River as it passes through downtown Camden:

1. Board members have claimed that those who want to save the dam are primarily a few town merchants, while ignoring the hundreds who signed the petition to save the dam.

2. They wrongly insist that there is only one way to foster resiliency on the lower Megunticook. Of course, there are multiple ways, including ones which retain the Montgomery Dam. The three alternatives presented in the Inter-Fluve report were only illustrative and are subject to a variety of creative interpretations and useful applications. The board chose the wrong one because they wanted to get rid of the Montgomery Dam, not to foster resiliency, because we know it is possible to keep the dam and honor resiliency at the same time.

3. The Select Board mysteriously created the Megunticook issue over four years ago, suddenly making it a top priority. It was back then that a member of the board began going to local environmental groups with the false message that the Montgomery Dam causes flooding. (That was well before the Inter-Fluve Report which ultimately didn’t back up the pronouncement.) Against all evidence, the board has continued to claim that the Montgomery Dam causes serious flooding. The board obviously feels their erroneous flooding claim is the best card to play as it attempts to justify getting rid of the dam. The board’s dilemma is that it can’t come up with a better reason to eliminate the dam, and it can’t admit that this lone reason is not true. It is worried about qualifying for the resiliency grant.

4. When the dreaded 100-year storm actually descended upon us last Halloween, causing half of Goose River Golf Course to be under water and half the town basements to be wetted or flooded, Main Street remained perfectly safe while the Smiling Cow, supposedly most vulnerable exposure to the Montgomery Dam, experienced no more than a damp floor. This could have been a learning experience, but not with this Select Board. The board seems sure that water flows uphill.

5. The Select Board has grumbled about the expense of repairing and maintaining the dam. Repairing the dam is estimated at about $200,000 (let’s make it $290,000 to allow for inflation), actually a modest sum, especially given its 90 years of service. There will be an ongoing maintenance requirement, but estimates have been greatly exaggerated and a small fraction of the proposed fish ladders.

6. Meanwhile the board ignores what the high cost of removing the dam would be. Its removal would be considerably more expensive than repairing the existing dam, requiring heavy equipment and disruption to Harbor Park.

7. The board keeps silent about the staggeringly high cost of its proposed project, partly because it hopes the feds will pick up the tab, but also because it has no idea how much of our local taxes will be necessary.

8. Board members have even described the redesigned river as a kayaking route, playing the glamor card while ignoring limitations on generally low flow and the improbable leap over the rocks at the gateway to the harbor.

The muddy thinking and disinformation list could go on. Our Select Board and the town manager are hiding behind a consultant report that they won’t discuss and that has received inadequate public review. The board also refuses to hold a public meeting on the matter as proposed by board member Marc Rattner last October. Now the board has denied the lawfully submitted petition vote to save the dam.
What will be the next example of obfuscation and disinformation from the Camden Town Board?

The Montgomery Dam needs our attention. We want our Select Board to commemorate and repair the dam, not destroy it. We need some straight talk and genuine community involvement for a change. If the board got off its high horse and let citizens help work out a balanced solution, it would be gratified by the results.

Roger Akeley

Camden

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