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Banners over the falls call for saving dam

By Susan Mustapich | Oct 31, 2019
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Banners at the top of Montgomery Dam, and waterfall over Camden Harbor, oppose development of a plan to partially or fully remove the dam.

Camden — As town government moves forward on designs for partial or full removal of the Montgomery Dam, banners hanging over the dam and powerful waterfalls proclaim, "Don't Destroy the Beauty," "Save Our Falls," and "Honor Our History."

Those banners, attached to the deck railings at Marriner's, express what the restaurant's co-owner Dan Gabriele wants to share with town leaders, who he sees as not giving the community a say.

In March 2018, town officials announced a study of fish passage on the Megunticook River, and possible options of lowering or removing the Montgomery Dam. Inter-Fluve, a nationwide company with an office in Damariscotta selected to do the study, proposed to involve "project stakeholders, the public, and local, state and federal agencies."

A kick-off meeting in April 2018 and a July 2019 presentation of the final report were primarily information sessions, with presentations by Inter-Fluve and an expert in fish passage.

At the April meeting, opinions were sought from attendees, including a couple of Main Street business owners, town officials, a watershed restoration expert, a property owner on the Megunticook riverfront, and a representative of the Megunticook Watershed Association.

About 90 people attended the July meeting. After the first presentation about fish passage, time was allotted for many questions. After the second presentation on the results of the dam feasibility study, little time was left for questions. When the meeting ended, Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell confirmed that the town was committed to maintaining three dams on the upper Megunticook River, and was looking at the option of removing the Montgomery Dam, and two privately owned downtown dams.

When Gabriele, who has owned Marriner's for 38 years with his wife, Becki, first heard the town's ideas to install fish ladders on the Megunticook River dams, he was for it.

But by July he saw that talk coming from town officials about the dam and waterfalls had become one-sided.

"It sounded like it was already a done deal, before the people were ever involved in it," he said.

"The people had already spoken loud and clear," he said, when they voted to save the dam and budgeted money to fund it at a town meeting a couple of years ago. But that repair never happened.

Gabriele said his wife and daughter are the face of Marriner's, while he spends all of his time in the kitchen. That can mean long hours turning out 500 to 600 plates during breakfast and lunch rushes. He has begun to regret that he hasn't sought out town officials to tell them what he thinks about about the plans for the dams.

Around Labor Day, he put the banners out on the deck over the falls "to let people know that it isn't a done deal, and it shouldn't be spoken of like that by our town officials."

Since then, he said he has heard an overwhelmingly positive response to the banners, saving the falls, town history and "the beauty of the treasure that we have here." People have also expressed alarm and surprise that doing away with the dam and falls is even being considered.

He describes the uniqueness of having a mill pond and waterfall so close to Route 1, Camden's Main Street. On a day when the highway is "clogged and crowded and sidewalks are packed with people, you're a world away when you walk out this back door," he said.

He sees tens of thousands of people stop to enjoy that waterfall. He said you can see where the public landing is worn away by the foot traffic of people who come to see the most spectacular view of the falls.

Gabriele said wanting to keep the falls does not mean he and his wife are "anti-anything." They and their children have worked at Marriner's, and his grandchildren are waiting for their turn.

Becki works in special education at the middle school, and Marriner's has provided jobs for kids, who may not have been able to get a job anywhere else, he said. He said they have been greatly rewarded by seeing the success of these kids later on in their lives.

When the high school and YMCA moved out of downtown, and kids were hanging out at Harbor Park, they built a basketball court on their property near downtown, to give kids a place to go, and it became a gathering place.

"We have absolutely dedicated ourselves to this community," he said. "We are not anti anything."

Gabriele has heard that supporting the dam and falls means not caring about the environment or that a business just wants to sell more lobster rolls.

"That's baloney," he said. Marriner's is a diner, with diner prices, he said. If he wanted to make more money, he could raise the prices, or serve alcohol, he said.

"It's a spot for the community. We stay open all year. The locals are our bread and butter. We don't cater to the tourist, we serve them just like we would a local, and we've served generations of people."

His work day begins at 4:30 a.m. to get the muffins in the oven every morning.

"The window and door is open to the back in the summer as the sun's coming up over the water and the waterfall. "Part of me is just heartbroken to think that that might not exist."

The many issues Gabriele raises include how the Montgomery family "generously gifted that pond and dam to the town, with the agreement that they would care for it."

He sees that several Select Boards have delayed the repair to the dam approved by voters, "and now it's too expensive." He sees the town "crying poverty" yet spending money on studies and experts. These experts do not live in Camden, he said, "but we do."

Other concerns include what will happen to the building where Marriner's is located, and others on Main Street that are built on stilts over the water, and are meant to be insulated by that water. Years ago, there was enough water to run a turbine under the building next door, which produced electricity that ran both buildings. Due to lack of repair to the dam, he said, that turbine went out of use. He talked about how his building cracked when the river was drained around the dam one winter.

Gabriele has stood in the mud behind the dam when the water was drained, to do some repairs. He observes wildlife that live there, and sometimes helps a 100-year-old turtle that lives in the river, when it has gotten stuck in precarious situations on the rocks beneath the falls.

The day before, a king tide overtopped the sea wall around the perimeter of Harbor Park. He said he hasn't ever seen the water that high. With a window to the harbor, he sees how the water has risen over the past four decades, but does not see how taking a dam down will affect sea level rise, which has global causes. Gabriele believes that the sea wall needs to be built up and maintained, as do the town's dams.

The sea wall and perimeter lawns of Harbor Park were submerged during an exceptionally high tide on Oct. 28. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
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Comments (4)
Posted by: Barry P King | Nov 03, 2019 07:38

I am sure there is way more to the big picture of which I am ignorant but can a fish ladder and a dam co-exist? Could a fish ladder be constructed on the town parking lot side of the falls leaving the rest of the falls and sluiceway repaired in the manner in which they currently exist?

Posted by: Karen A Grove | Nov 02, 2019 20:11

Inter-fluve is a firm that specializes in investigations, design, and restoration of rivers, lakes and wetlands. Their focus since inception of their company has been just that.   To hire a firm with this single narrow agenda to try to convince the people of Camden that taking down the Montgomery Dam to open it up for fish runs is showing only the point of view that benefits their company’s mission.  What other point of view would they have?  Its how they make their money.

Did those who want the dam destroyed talk to anyone who was around when years ago the dam was broken in an open status?  I have.  There was a day when two young men were asked to open the Montgomery Dam, which was hand cranked, so that work could be done.  They ‘over-muscled” the crank and the dam gear broke leaving the dam open.  The dam pool emptied and the river drained to a muddy rivulet within a day.  There was no river left. Those boys who are now adult businessmen in town have told me the story and I’m sure they would be happy to share it with anyone else who cares to ask.

Now to the economic benefits to this town; The river, the dam, the seawall that protects our precious Olmstead Park is all part of the cache of Camden.  Its that cache that brings the tourists here and brings them back year after year.  Without this unique visual appeal, we are just another small town in Maine with no reason for anyone to visit.  Remember folks, we may be a bit snobby about tourist but it’s their dollars that keeps businesses glowing and growing here.  Without our small-town businesses, we are financially up the creek. (no pun intended)



Posted by: Margaret Jones | Nov 01, 2019 09:42

AMEN!  to Dan & Mary.  It's not only locals who feel this way.  Explain it to anyone and they can't believe it.  I have yet to talk to anyone who is in favor of the proposed plan to remove the dam.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Oct 31, 2019 17:29

Only natives want to "preserve". Such beauty and tradition! That is what the taxpayer gets when it hires "out of towners".

Hopefully the "natives" will prevail and the water fall and beauty is maintained. Hopefully the native taxpayers will prevail.

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