Prompted by the activism of altruistic high school students who are taking initiatives to try to get their elders to take actions that address the challenges of our current existential climate crises, I am motivated to offer the benefit of my training and experience in some small way to try to nudge our little community in the direction of a sensible approach to addressing our own tempest in an environmental teapot. “Think globally, act locally,” was the rallying cry of the early 1970s, when modern environmental issues first came to the fore.

What influences my opinion on the Montgomery Dam issue? I hold a BA in political science and environmental studies from Williams College ’72 and an MS in natural resources from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) ’73, with a specialty in environmental education. Retired now, I ran the largest community gardening program in the country, oversaw 300-plus nature preserves as an administrator for The Nature Conservancy, ran a network of a dozen wildlife sanctuaries and education centers for the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and was the executive director of the New England Wildflower Society (now Native Plant Society).

I am also a landscape painter — I founded the Knox County Art Society — and an avid amateur landscape designer and flower gardener. So, I think as much as most anyone, I appreciate, at least conceptually, the intricacies, interrelatedness, and beauty of the built environment and the natural world. Of course, I admire naturalistic landscape architecture as practiced by Frederick Law Olmstead and his followers, who brought the two together in such a harmonious way. We should be clear on the distinctions between the two, but the fate of the falls is obviously linked physically and aesthetically to Harbor Park.

I also admit to a personal business interest in perpetuating the draw of Camden as a tourist destination. My wife and I have for 12 years hosted more than 100 different families from 35 states and four foreign countries in the seasonal vacation cottage on our property on Pearl St., where we have lived for 32 years. One of the principal “selling points” of our rental is its “walking-distance” proximity to our attractive downtown, including the stunning Megunticook River waterfall.

My opinion regarding the future of the Montgomery Dam: Rational actors with an interest in the future welfare of our community as a whole should not be asking voters to adopt a non-negotiable, unilateral, simplistic position on a complex problem, placing one subjective value above all else, or even to the exclusion of anything else. Those who do so seem to be dismissing the possibility that the gathering and study of all kinds of information might help us arrive at the most satisfactory answer to the question of what to do about the dam, if anything.

The notion we can have things the way we want them by exerting pure willpower — or in this case, political action — without regard to the laws of nature is the kind of thinking that causes, not solves, environmental problems. Looking at such issues with blinders on is the kind of limited vision that is largely responsible for the environmental mess we find ourselves in today.

Among other intelligent questions to be answered include: What will happen when the irresistible force — river flood waters beyond anything we have yet experienced — meets the immovable object —a bay risen by several feet due to sea level rise? Further, what would be the effect of a dam at the head of the harbor, or of other structures that do or might control the flow of water into the river and/or bay?

Is it so hard to conceive that natural events — actually not so “natural” now that we humans are altering our climate so dramatically — could cause damage downtown, upstream, to the park we love, or in the harbor? To suggest such a prospect might sound alarmist, but how many of us were aware a few years ago the world would already be experiencing the extreme floods, fires, drought, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other climate-driven shocks that it is? Does anyone remember the images we saw last year of flooding in Europe, much of it impacting small towns located along rivers? Could we have a similar catastrophe here, even if on a smaller scale? Shall we ignore all these obvious warnings, and pretend none of this applies to us in little old Camden, Maine, U.S.A?

To be realistic, shouldn’t we consider the possibility of adverse events caused by global warming, and what measures can be taken to mitigate, if not prevent, them? Such measures could possibly pertain to the river, dams, and other structures in and around the river and inner harbor. Might even the still undeveloped Tannery Mill property play a role in managing river flood waters as a kind of an overflow catch basin, or even to replace some public landing parking, now threatened with periodic inundation — either of which might be compatible with its use as a park or open space? Is it time to think outside the box? How can we be sure such measures, which might sound crazy now, will not be necessary, and sooner than we think?

Yes, those who value the aesthetic of the Harbor Park area, just as it is, have a valid point of view. I am sympathetic, but we need to see more of the whole picture. What about those with a financial interest — owners of property around the lake or adjacent to the river, owners of commercial and residential buildings downtown, their business tenants, yacht and schooner operators, Lyman-Morse, and others I am not thinking of at the moment? Public works affect all of us, but some of us could be more directly impacted than others.

The list of potential interests, public and private, associated with the flow of water into the inner harbor is long and diverse. Shouldn’t all of us at least be given an opportunity to understand the ramifications of a dam decision? There are, too, people whose legitimate concern is the obstruction of fish migration, which — pardon the pun — also has ecological ripple effects. Fish don’t have a financial interest, or voices or votes, but they are important, too!

If I understand its recent statements, a group wants to expedite a decision to “save” the dam falls — forever? Unconditionally? “Come what may?” Regardless of cost? — via a popular vote by a potentially uninformed electorate mainly motivated by sentiment. Should we voters agree to disregard any and all conceivable and potential implications, unintended consequences, or costs of preserving the Montgomery dam as is, without considering anything except the aesthetics of the falls?

Without more careful consideration, I believe it is not fair, and neither reasonable nor responsible, to ask voters to make such a decision at this time, any more than it would be reasonable and responsible to force the opposite alternative, that is, the dam should be removed, period. And what about a middle ground . . . making alterations?

Decisions about the interface between our built and natural environment taken in 2022 must take into account, to the degree we are able, the further extreme climate changes inexorably headed our way. We do not live in a static situation. Not to try to predict, anticipate, and consider those ramifications as fully as we are able would be like putting our collective heads in the sand.

The dam is not the park, and the river is not the harbor, but the various components of the system of which we speak are interrelated. The Olmstead Brothers, working between 1928 and 1935, did not plan or build a major feature into our in-town landscape with climate change in mind. Had they been so clairvoyant, we might have been enjoying for about 90 years an entirely different reality than the one we have come to love.

For example, looking ahead, with rising sea levels, will the exiting seawall separating Harbor Park from the river where it meets the harbor still make sense? Does it still work as intended, even now? Further, will the existing drainage infrastructure, natural and built, be sufficient to handle greater total rainfall and more intense single events? Can it handle heavy rains, even now?

Let’s come together and analyze the facts and imagine the possibilities, as best as we can discern them, and have a thoughtful discussion. Let’s not jump to either conclusion, and work at this as a community with a common interest in arriving at the best possible outcome for all, rather than confronting one another as adversaries. We all stand to lose if we make a hasty and uninformed decision. The need for “due diligence” comes to mind.

When the great fire destroyed the wooden buildings constituting downtown Camden in 1892, our predecessors did not rebuild everything using wood. We might want to be as open to change, if and when, all things considered, some change turns out to be part of a prudent solution — but wouldn’t it have been better if they had built with stone and brick before the fire? “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

As much as we might wish otherwise, the times are a-changing. The only thing certain about the future is it will not be like the past, or even the present. Of course, this is an emotional issue, but we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to face it with as much thinking as feeling. It sure is complicated, but we need to address as carefully as we can a constellation of problems that will have no completely satisfactory solution. “Saving the dam” might do more harm than good.

This is all too much for individual voters to process unassisted, which is why we have elected representatives, salaried town officials, and consultants working for us. Let us trust them to do their jobs and not preempt their opportunity to do so by a premature vote, or if there is to be a vote to “save the dam,” I believe that, even if we love it just the way it is, we should vote “No” for now.

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