Dams, Route 1 construction, river bank cleanup discussed

By Susan Mustapich | Aug 22, 2019
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Camden resident and former Select Board member Karen Grove raises her concerns about what might happen if the Montgomery and other downtown dams were removed from the Megunticook River.

CAMDEN — Downtown dams, Route 1 North construction, marijuana cultivation licensing and short-term borrowing for the wastewater treatment plant upgrade were discussed Aug. 20 by community and Select Board members.

Citizen concerned about plan to remove dams

At the opening of the meeting, former Select Board member Karen Grove gave a presentation during the citizen comment period. The comment period is set aside for citizens to talk about items not on the agenda.

Grove commented on a proposal to remove the Montgomery Dam overlooking Camden Harbor, along with relocating and rebuilding the Megunticook River stream bed through what is now the adjacent Harbor Park's lower pathway.

She said that in entertaining this proposal, town officials and the Camden Public Library Board of Trustees are "walking dangerously close to destroying a historic Olmstead park forever."

Any alteration to Harbor Park will trigger costly Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for the park, according to Grove, including paths a minimum of three feet wide, accessible entrances and viewing platforms near the harbor for public events. She reviewed an attempt to modify the park in 1998. She cited the defeat of the plan at the polls, by a margin of 1,500 to 500, as demonstrating the value the Frederick Law Olmstead-designed park has to the community.

Grove spoke against plans discussed by town officials about possibly removing other downtown dams for the purpose of reducing flood risk and eventually allowing fish passage up the river. She stated that soils that collect behind these dams will be released and collect at the head of the harbor. Costly dredging, which now occurs about every 10 years, will be required more frequently if dams are removed, she said, wiping out any savings the town expects to see from dam removal.

Select Board reports

Chairman Bob Falciani reported that the Maine Department of Transportation has updated the design for the planned Route 1 North construction, which begins at the north end of the entrance to Camden Hills State Park and continues 1.5 miles to the Lincolnville town line.

The properties along that section of road have been assessed for potential acquisition of permanent or temporary right-of-way, with owners to hear from DOT around October regarding negotiations, he said. Bids for the project could go out late this year, he said. Construction will begin with the two bridges within this section of highway. The Great Brook bridge, near the Lincolnville town line, will require one lane for a period of time. At Spring Brook, a temporary bridge structure will be used, to maintain two lanes around the clock during construction on the federal coastal highway.

Board member Alison McKellar said she had a discussion with representatives of the national association of Olmstead-designed parks. She said the association has resources valuable to the town of Camden. It has invited the submission for its quarterly newsletter of an article about the issues Camden is grappling with in Harbor Park, she said.

McKellar also spoke about positive comments she has received from members of the community in appreciation of the Select Board's support for downtown businesses, specifically in regard to support during the license renewal for Cuzzy's, Camden's only late-night restaurant and bar.

She said along with the appreciation, there were "concerns about what has been lost in Camden." She added that she now realizes that the noise ordinance passed a few years ago bans noise over a certain decibel level everywhere in town, with no exceptions, essentially banning live music downtown after 11 p.m.. She suggested taking a hard look at the ordinance, which doesn't jive with support for a vibrant downtown and a year-round community.

Board member Jenna Looker said she supports the idea of reexamining the town's noise ordinance. She said talking about a vibrant downtown, while not allowing live music is contradictory. She wants to see provisions, possibly creating an arts or cultural district, to allow live music in at least a small area of the downtown.

Downtown trash cans

Board members agreed that more trash cans are needed in downtown Camden, noting that receptacles are often observed to be overflowing. The public Knox Mill parking lots were discussed as one site that needs trash cans. Falciani suggested that new Public Works Manager Dave St. Laurent be asked to evaluate locations and costs for trash receptacles downtown.

Riverbank cleanup

Jeremy Martin, Planning, Development and Code Office director, updated board members on the cleanup of solid waste observed along the banks of the Megunticook River adjacent to the Riverwalk and Tannery Park. McKellar has long championed the need to investigate and remove industrial debris left behind by former tanneries and mills.

In April 2018, Camden received a $200,000 Brownfields Cleanup grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which will be used to cover over residual chemicals on part of the property with new soil, landscaping or other materials. In October 2018, the town was ready to release a Request for Qualifications seeking plans for a multi-use development combining economic development with green space. Community members have long campaigned for a playground and a permanent home for the Camden Farmer's Market there. Around the same time, town officials acknowledged the value of cleaning up the riverbank, and delayed releasing the RFQ.

Martin stated Aug. 20 that EPA officials have confirmed that the Brownfields Grant cannot be used to assess the riverbank, but are now saying they will find other funding for this. An EPA contract is now being produced for this purpose, Martin said, and funding for the assessment is nearly certain. He said if contamination is found, the Brownfields Cleanup funds can be used. He stated the removal of some of the solid waste is possible.

Local license for commercial marijuana cultivation revised

Martin revised proposed local licensing rules based on the request of board members Aug. 6. One change will allow the board to set licensing fees. Commenting on a board member's request to remove 24-hour video surveillance requirements from the local ordinance, Martin confirmed this requirement is set in state law.

In June Camden residents approved small-scale commercial marijuana cultivation facilities. A local ordinance allows the two smallest indoor and outdoor marijuana cultivation facilities defined by state law. The local law requires Zoning Board of Appeals review, and the granting of a special exception in order to obtain a license.

Establishing a commercial growing facility requires both local approval and licensing, and state licensing. A public hearing for the local licensing requirements is set for Sept. 3. The hearing will take place during the Select Board meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m. in the John French Conference Room on Washington Street.

Interim financing for wastewater plant upgrade

The board approved a bid from Key Bank to provide a tax-exempt bond anticipation loan in the amount of $8 million, at an interest rate of 1.99 percent. The maturity date is June 30, 2022. Key Bank offered the lowest interest rate of the institutions responding to the bid request. Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell recommended accepting the bid with the lowest interest rate.

In June 2018, voters authorized the Select Board to bond $13.9 million for the wastewater treatment plant upgrade. Much of the plant's equipment is 50 years old. The project includes upgrades to the Washington Street and Norumbega Drive pump stations and replacement of a sewer main on Sea Street. The tax impact of the $13.9 million upgrade is estimated to be 54 cents per $1,000 of property valuation.

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