Last Tuesday, a representative of Save the Dam Falls told the Camden Select Board that his group wants to work with town officials on the Montgomery Dam and a free-flowing river. Two days later, another STDF representative wrote here that the board’s vice chairperson wasn’t “speaking the truth, that Camden citizens will have their opportunity to vote” on saving the dam. What’s he talking about? By law, we have to vote before the board appropriates even one dollar of our money for anything related to the dam — whether we save it or not. Doesn’t sound like STDF wants to cooperate with anybody.

Like many Camden residents, I recently read that STDF plans to call a special town meeting on September 27. Last year, they spent five months collecting 500 signatures on a petition to preserve the Montgomery Dam in its current form, essentially without alteration. As I understand it, they’re asking us to vote on that proposal at the special town meeting.

For 30 years, Camden taxpayers have paid to maintain and operate the dam, which now needs significant repairs. We have no idea what STDF’s proposal will cost or even whether it’s a good idea.

It’s important to remember that another group, Restore Megunticook, also circulated a petition involving the dam. In three weeks, last February and March, this group (I’m a member) collected around 530 signatures supporting a very different alternative: to analyze the potential impact of climate change throughout the Megunticook watershed and examine our options. That includes the Montgomery Dam.

Restore Megunticook supports the Select Board’s decision to appoint an advisory committee that will participate in this process. The committee will ensure that we all have accurate, transparent information when we eventually vote on the best way to protect our river, our harbor, our property, and way of life — probably sometime next year. More than 500 Camden voters agreed with us.

A couple of months ago, STDF also said they liked this proposal. What’s their hurry now? Are they afraid that voters won’t support their idea when we see how much it will cost? Or are they afraid there might be a better option that most of us can live with? No one is denying them their right to vote — when we have enough information to make an informed choice.

The advisory committee can provide another huge benefit: lowering the temperature of public debate about the river. Let me provide a personal example. On Election Day, I sat in the firehouse at a table with hand-outs about restoring the Megunticook watershed. Generally speaking, the conversations were positive; around 200 people picked up our fact sheets. A few were angry: they asked me why our group wanted to destroy the falls or turn the river into a muddy ditch. They told me that I was stupid or a liar.
For 30 years before retiring, I helped communities and industrial companies reach agreement over tense environmental issues. Usually these discussions were emotional, but it was always possible to reach a fair outcome. I try very hard not to be stupid and I never lie.

Most people in Camden are committed to our community healthy and beautiful. We work together on a lot of things, and where we disagree, we need to remember that we’re still neighbors who depend on each other. Hopefully, we can still have an open, transparent discussion about the Montgomery Dam. And then vote on it.

Robert Wasserstrom