Camden faces steep costs for dam, sewer, bridge projects

By Susan Mustapich | Mar 22, 2018
Photo by: Susan Mustapich The town of Camden is studying the impact of potential repair options for the Montgomery Dam on the environment, flooding and fish passageways.

CAMDEN — The risk of flooding downtown and the possibility of a new fish passageway prompted the select board to approve a study of the Montgomery Dam.

The board on March 20 unanimously approved up to $40,000 to study options for repairing the dam.

The plan has been discussed for several years. In December, board member Alison McKellar asked that a bid award for a repair estimated to cost from $71,000 to $86,000, be deferred, and that environmental impacts of the dam first be studied. The repair involves resurfacing concrete and repointing the concrete in the granite block sluiceway.

Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell hopes the $36,000 feasibility study will put Camden in line for a federal grant to evaluate the entire Megunticook watershed. Camden maintains four dams on the river, and there are additional dams on the Knox Mill property.

According to Caler-Bell, money the town spends on the Montgomery Dam study can be used as matching funds for a NOAA Coastal Resiliency study, which targets assistance to towns and cities faced with rising sea level and flooding risks. The town has submitted a pre-proposal application to NOAA for funding of up to $80,000 for this type of study. The application states that the Montgomery Dam impacts infrastructure and flood water levels in downtown Camden. Planning Board member and engineer Jeff Senders assisted with the application.

While the select board has had some discussion about lowering or removing the Montgomery Dam, Caler-Bell said the town is committed to maintaining the East and West dams, which create Lake Megunticook, and the Seabright Dam, which impounds a section of the Megunticook River. She called the town's commitment to these dams non-negotiable. The lake and river above Seabright Dam are lined with waterfront properties and are popular water recreation areas.

On March 20, Mark Burke of Inter-Fluve, based in Damariscotta and Boston, Mass., presented an overview of dams along the Megunticook River, impacts of dams on environmental conditions, and options for adding fish passageways.

Historically, dams were economic engines for Camden's industries. The golden era of dam construction took place from 1900 up until the 1970s. Today, dams are reaching the end of their design life and are decaying, Burke said, creating challenges including public safety issues.

Dams elevate water levels and can contribute to flooding. Burke showed the select board a FEMA map, diagramming how flooding is exacerbated in the areas right around Camden's downtown dams. In addition, sediment builds up around dams and impairs water quality.

Burke talked about examples of fish passage restoration. Following installation of pool and weir fishways, a million alewives now swim from the ocean, up the Damariscotta River, to reach spawning grounds in the river's headwaters. Alewife runs become community events and tourist attractions, and serve the fishing community through sales for lobster bait.

Dam modifications and removal improve the natural flow of rivers and restore the environment, according to Burke. Inter-Fluve's study of Montgomery Dam will present hydraulic models of the Megunticook River in downtown Camden based on various repair scenarios as well as dam removal.

The study will be paid for with funds returned to the town of Camden from the Municipal Review Committee. Camden is part of Mid-Coast Solid Waste, which has ended its agreement with the MRC for trash disposal. The return of funds to the four towns that make up MCSW is part of the separation agreement.

Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade

A public hearing was held on the proposed $13.9 million capital improvement project to upgrade Camden's Wastewater Treatment Plant.

No members of the public commented.

Wastewater Department Superintendent David Bolstridge reviewed the needs for improvements to the control and sludge treatment buildings to improve plant operations, efficiency and safety for the operations staff. In addition, equipment throughout the plant requires upgrading. The buildings and equipment are more than 50 years old, and have lasted longer than their expected life due to the maintenance provided by the plant's three superintendents and staff. Plant equipment is outdated, and replacement parts are no longer available on the market, according to Bolstridge. The upgrade is based on a review of the plant and recommendations by Wright-Pierce Environmental Engineering of Topsham.

New equipment will reduce the energy costs of wastewater processing, and produce a drier solid waste product, which will cost less to ship out to a composting facility, according to recommendations.

In June, voters will be asked to approve the wastewater plant upgrade and authorize town officials to fund the project through bonds.

Rawson Avenue Bridge

Water under the bridge is one of the causes of deterioration of the Rawson Avenue bridge, according to Carmen Bombeke, senior engineer with Gartley & Dorsky Engineering. The bridge has been posted with a five-ton weight limit since September 2017.

The deck of the bridge, and the portion of the bridge that supports the deck and connects substructure elements, are in "serious condition," according to the Maine Department of Transportation. The channel condition under the bridge is rated "severely undermined" and "severely damaged."

DOT has recommended abandoning the bridge, and dead-ending Rawson Avenue on both sides. According to Caler-Bell, DOT estimates bridge replacement to cost $1 million.

Caler-Bell said DOT should repair the bridge, and has moved forward with studying bridge replacement options and costs.

Bombeke presented recommendations for a two-span concrete arch system bridge, and a single-span steel truss bridge. The estimated cost of the two-span concrete bridge is $505,800, while the estimated cost of the single span steel bridge is $471,000. The recommendations and costs will be discussed with MDOT, according to Caler-Bell.

Montgomery Dam at the top of the falls overlooking Camden Harbor will be the focus of a study that will guide decisions on the dam's repair. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
Town officials are reviewing options for replacing the Rawson Avenue Bridge, which is in poor condition. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
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