Montgomery Dam study begins with questions

By Susan Mustapich | Apr 24, 2018
Photo by: Susan Mustapich A row of Main Street businesses are built over the Megunticook River, overlooking the Montgomery Dam, waterfall, and Camden Harbor.

CAMDEN — Opinions were solicited from business owners, town officials and parties interested in fish passage at an April 23 meeting about the future of the Montgomery Dam in downtown Camden.

Mark Burke of Inter-Fluve led the meeting. Inter-Fluve, based in Damariscotta, has been hired by the town of Camden to conduct a feasibility study of how dam repair options may impact the surrounding environment and downtown flood risks, as well as the possibility of enabling fish passage up the Megunticook River. Burke displayed FEMA maps that predict increased flooding risks around Camden's downtown dams. He acknowledged FEMA's information was based on old data, and said the study would look at updating the flood risk information.

Town officials have been planning to repair the dam for over a year. The repair project was sent out to bid in 2017. The sole bid returned estimated the repair to cost upwards of $70,000.

Town manager Audra Caler-Bell explained April 23 that the poor condition of the Montgomery Dam is now adding $30,000 annually to the town's insurance bill. Camden owns and maintains four dams on the river, including the Montgomery Dam. There are additional dams located on the Knox Mill property.

Burke asked everyone attending the meeting to list four priorities regarding the Montgomery Dam, and asked each person to read their top priority out loud.

Tom Rothwell, owner of the Camden Deli, which is one of a handful of Main Street buildings that are built over the Megunticook River, said the number-one priority should be fixing the dam so the water flows over the dam 100 percent of the time, instead of mud within the dam's enclosure. "We owe it to the residents and tourists to get it aesthetically right," he said.

In an email sent to town officials in January, Rothwell describes "the aesthetic of the waterfall and pool of water at the top of the dam" as features that "bring tourists and new residents alike to our beautiful community, year after year." He wrote that "because of mechanical issues with the dam in recent years, 90 percent of the time our building is sitting atop a large, unsightly mud hole."

Meg Quijano, owner of the Smiling Cow, a retail store on Main Street, built over the river, agreed with Rothwell. She added that she would love to see cooperation between those who feel aesthetics are important and those who want to consider ecological issues.

She alerted those at the meeting that ownership of the building includes the property beneath the building. Proper maintenance has required the water to be drained out from below the building so the steel and concrete pilings can be inspected annually, and repairs can be done.

Rothwell told the audience that he also inspects annually and has had to make repairs every two years. He and Quijano explained that the force of the river moves the silt, and leads to construction repairs.

David Bolstridge, Camden's wastewater superintendent said reducing flood risk is his primary goal.

Caler-Bell spoke about "balancing the things we value about the dam with things we value as a town, including public use of the harbor and the river." She would like to reduce the town's cost for maintaining infrastructure and insurances.

Ben Matthew, watershed restoration specialist with The Nature Conservancy said "we're interested in the least expensive option that doesn't shut the door on fish passage." After the meeting, Matthews clarified that the The Nature Conservancy is not currently advocating for opening up fish passage in the Megunticook River. A goal for the organization could be determining if there is evidence of fish passage in the past, in the river.

Paul Leeper, with the Megunticook River Association, said that improving the historical record regarding fish passage would be helpful. He said the current record is "fairly thin."

He mentioned that many people who have grown up in the area believe there has never been fish passage up the river.

Mark Wallach, who lives on the Megunticook River, and has helped organize communication among riverfront residents regarding dam repair issues, said his top priority is maintaining water levels for access to recreational use and to maintain the wildlife in the river.

Camden Select Board member Alison McKellar, who initiated the current discussion on dam repair options and fish passage in Nov. 2017, said her priority is "looking for the best environmental outcome." McKellar has researched the issue of fish passage and has found a historical reference to a past discussion where townspeople were trying to restore fish passage.

Lincolnville selectman Josh Gerritsen agreed that "the ecological aspect is the most important," and said he favors fish ladders and bringing the fish back to the river.

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