By Roger Akeley

I wish Alison were speaking the truth, that Camden citizens will have their opportunity to vote on saving the Montgomery Dam.

But the Town Select Board has been clear about its desire to eliminate the dam, regardless of any study of the Megunticook River or the wishes of its residents. That is why Alison McKellar led the vote to table repair of the Montgomery Dam back in 2017. That is why the Select Board commissioned the Inter-Fluve Report, to recommend its removal. That is why after the report set up three alternatives for the Town to consider, the Board then took it upon itself to select the option to remove the dam, without seeking input and review from its citizens.

That’s why it conjured up its claim that the dam was harmful, causing flooding and environmental degradation. That’s why it exaggerated claims of the dam’s expense to the Town, while at the same time proposing a staggeringly expensive proposal to disrupt a short stretch of the Megunticook River in order to engineer it back to a mythical past. That is why it proposes new fish migration passage even though we have little idea what fish will take advantage of it and whether or not it ever was a migration route.

Enough, Alison. The Inter-Fluve Report doesn’t support your claims. We can debate this with you and other Town Select Board members, but you choose to duck behind your pre-determined conclusion that it needs to be removed because the “experts” said so.

They didn’t.

There is no justification for removing the dam. Yes, it needs our attention and repairs. The modest expense is worth it. Long-term maintenance requirements will be modest too, much less than what an elaborate system of fish ladders would require.

The vote you’re talking about — in the distant future — will be framed not as a vote to save the dam, but on whether or not to accept federal funding for the Select Board’s grand scheme. Buried in the proposal will be the removal of Montgomery Dam. Consequently, our choice as citizens will be limited, because many good ideas for change in the watershed will be lumped in with bad or unnecessary ones. In other words, we will only be able to vote to eliminate the dam, but not to save it. It will be a one-way proposition.

In short, there will be no vote on the Montgomery Dam if Alison and the Select Board continue on their current course of action. If the initial research process had been done in good faith, with an open door to citizen involvement, the town could have proceeded with better alternatives for future action. But the Camden Select Board didn’t give its citizens the opportunity for review and discussion so that we could cooperatively formulate an understanding of how to proceed. Rather, the Board worked behind our backs and then chose the alternative for us. It was sneaky and undemocratic.

Now the Board wants to hire yet another consultant to spend public money to persuade and promote, rather than to do the necessary scientific work to fully understand the river and its ecosystem. It’s the Board’s latest attempt to assure that the town will accede to its stubborn desire to spend untold millions for dubious goals, especially the elimination of Montgomery Dam.

Given the Select Board’s clandestine approach to governing, those who want to save the dam have no alternative but to call for a vote on the Montgomery Dam. We wish it wasn’t necessary. We wish that open and democratic government had prevailed so that issues could have been fairly discussed and worked out before the Select Board locked in on a reckless proposal to eliminate the dam.

Instead, the Board has doubled down, not with data, but with a desperate clinging to its original self-chosen recommendation to eliminate the dam. Its shameful pandering for Federal and State money should be modified to preserve what is valued in the community. Camden’s Comprehensive Plan and community pride should have more value than conditions set by some federal grant.

The Select Board has blocked our attempts to have Camden citizens vote on saving Montgomery Dam, calling it “premature.” That’s just not right. What was premature was the Board’s selection of the alternative to eliminate the dam, a totally unnecessary, unsupported and undemocratic conclusion. It has led to organized opposition and desire for a democratic process to replace the Board’s high-handed manipulation of the Megunticook River issues. We have no recourse but to call for a legal vote which will allow the voters to decide on saving the dam. Without it, there will never be a vote on saving Montgomery Dam. It’s a historical, atmospheric, and aesthetic centerpiece in Camden, a treasure worth saving.

Roger Akeley