Camden receives grant to study all Megunticook dams

By Susan Mustapich | Dec 05, 2018
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Camden has a new grant to assess dams on the Megunticook River, river habitat restoration, and resiliency measures to address issues such as the more frequent flooding, pictured here, where the river, harbor and lower level of Harbor Park meet.

CAMDEN — A grant for assessing Megunticook River watershed fish passage and flood prevention options delivers $159,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to Camden, and requires $200,000 in local matching funds.

The grant will be used for a feasbility study of the entire Megunticook watershed, according to Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell. The study involves looking at options for all the dams on the Megunticook River, Caler-Bell said, as well as river habitat restoration and increasing resiliency to increasing flooding risks, due to climate change.

"The grant provides a good opportunity to look comprehensively at the river," she said. Caler-Bell sees the grant award as an acknowledgment of "how our watershed is looked at as vulnerable to climate change."

Three of the town-owned dams on the Megunticook River will be considered for fish passage options, according to Caler-Bell. These are the Seabright, East and West dams. Earlier this year, she said town government is committed to maintaining these dams. On Dec. 2, Caler-Bell indicated that the study will look at options for the East and West dams, including whether both need to be operable dams, or whether one of the dams can be a structural dam. Both dams contain movable parts, including gates, used to modify water levels during various weather conditions. Currently the west dam gate is targeted for an expensive repair, due to wear and tear and failure of some of the moving parts.

The grant will also evaluate a variety of options for the privately-owned Knox Mill and Knowlton Street dams in downtown Camden. Caler-Bell said earlier this year that town officials have discussed taking over ownership of these dams with Knox Mill owner Matt Orne.

Montgomery Dam is the fourth town-owned dam. It was once used to divert the river to power a grist mill and an anchor factory. Today, the dam holds water in an impoundment behind a number of Main Street businesses, and creates a dramatic waterfall overlooking Camden Harbor.

Town officials state that a study of the Montgomery dam, completed earlier this year by Inter-Fluve indicates that the downtown dams increase flooding risks. The Inter-Fluve "Feasibility/Analysis Report, Megunticook Dam" is available on the town of Camden's website, camdenmaine.gov.

Currently, the Montgomery Dam is the focus of a town government proposal to remove or lower the dam, and to open fish passage into the river. The town recently received a $40,000 grant, which is being used for engineering and design plans for those options, and to reconfigure the seawall at Harbor Park.

These proposals to change the Montgomery Dam are stirring up controversy among town residents, exemplified by banners draped from a deck railing over the falls, proclaiming "Don't destroy the falls," "Save the dam," and "Honor our history."

Caler-Bell said the town can use portions of the funds budgeted for the town-owned dams as matching funds for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant. Inter-Fluve has offered to do some in-kind work, to contribute towards the required match, she said.

Each year at town meeting, voters typically authorize the Select Board to accept funds, including grants. This mechanism was used in 2019 to accept a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the wastewater treatment plant upgrade and $200,000 from the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection for remediation work at Tannery Park.

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