Response to editorial

Nov 21, 2019
Photo by: Chuck Brawn Pictured is flooding in Camden Harbor.

We are writing in response to The Camden Herald editorial board and the unfortunate mischaracterization of where we are in the processes of assessing Camden’s Montgomery Dam. Anyone reading the editorial probably thought the town was poised to move forward with removing the dam any day now. This is not the case. We are at the beginning of the process and years away from any major alteration.

The editorial states that selectmen (sic) haven’t made their case and that more study and more public input is needed. No one has said otherwise. Any significant change is likely years from occurring, and such decisions require public review and approval.

The only “case” that has been made is that there are problems with the status quo and that the issue is worthy of study. Can we design a solution that is less costly for the town and better for the environment? Could a more natural design be just as beautiful as the concrete that’s there now? Time will tell and nothing will happen unless the community is convinced. That’s how things work in Camden.

We are in the phase of collecting information that can be used to help the community and the Select Board make informed decisions.

We’ve had people of every age urging the town to act boldly on climate change and environmental issues and designing our infrastructure to reflect known changes in weather and sea level is an essential piece of a comprehensive action plan to address climate change.

Members of the Select Board have spoken at both the elementary and middle schools on the topic, led student groups on field trips to different sections of the Megunticook River and had countless people stop us in the street, email us and even knock on our doors.

We are at the beginning of the process.

We are concerned with and listen to all sides of the discussion. Many individuals and organizations want to do whatever is best for the environment, some are concerned primarily with aesthetics, many others with cost, and some are in the middle, not yet sure and waiting to see. Our job is to focus on gathering information and options so that all of these issues and opportunities can be fully considered.

We believe strongly that the majority of Camden residents know that changes are coming whether we plan for them or not.

Camden is at risk from both rising seas and increased rain events. Even today, many downtown buildings are at a higher risk of flooding due to the Montgomery Dam and the amount of water coming through the downtown during major storms is only projected to increase. The town pays higher insurance rates, and so do building owners, due to the liability of the dam and the increased flood zone that it creates.

We also know that the Harbor Park seawall and walkway, where the river and dam come up against the park, are feeling the impact of rising seas. This is why we have begun discussions with the library board of trustees, as they control the Harbor Park area.

Rather than immediately reinvest hundreds of thousands in the status quo and ignore the warnings of even the most conservative scientific projections, we are taking the opportunity to study an alternative. That’s why we have been awarded $50,000 in funding from the Maine Coastal Program and the Island Institute to design and engineer a revamping of the dam and seawall area that would be more resilient to flooding from both heavy rain and rising seas, while also restoring lost habitat for native species.

Simultaneously, we are applying for funds to do a feasibility study of the rest of the river and lake system. This is something Camden should be proud of, but we are still a ways off from having design and landscaping options for the public to weigh-in on.

There are, however, plenty of things that are well established and it is important to correct the record on a few points.

For one, contrary to what was stated in the editorial, Megunticook Lake is in no way impacted by Montgomery Dam, which has an area of influence that extends only to about the Highland Mill building, creating slightly elevated water levels just downstream from the Bagel Café.

Megunticook Lake levels are controlled exclusively by the East and West Dams. These dams cannot and never will be removed.

The river area between Mt. Battie Street and Molyneaux Road (the entire section used for swimming and boating) is controlled by the Seabright Dam, another dam that will never be removed.

The dams within the immediate downtown, however, create a substantial liability for the town and property owners and are expensive to maintain while creating significant environmental issues, all to be the subject of extensive study and public input sessions if we are successful in securing funding.

There is nothing radical about the conversation. Visit the website of any respected environmental organization and you will find they have a section on dam removal, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Maine Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Sierra Club and Trout Unlimited, to name a few. The same is true for state and federal agencies. Stories abound of small dams being removed with great community benefits.

Due to increased awareness about the impact of climate change for Camden’s shoreland areas and as part of our commitment to the Global Covenant of Mayors on Climate Change, we are working to incorporate accepted science into our planning for town infrastructure.

Sea levels are expected to rise at least a foot by the end of the century. The Harbor Park walkway and portions of the seawall are already overtopped an average of four times a month. The outfall from the dam sluiceway drives dinghies underwater and blasts the seawall like a fire hose. The magnitude of rain events is increasing and the ability of our stream and storm water system to absorb additional water is highly limited. Every drop of water that falls within the Megunticook Watershed must either be filtered down into the ground or rushed under and in between the buildings of Camden’s downtown.

Rather than sounding an alarm at such an early stage in the planning and fact-finding process, and misleading the public into thinking an actual construction project is imminent, the editors of The Camden Herald would serve the community well by staying up to date on current climate research as it relates to our region.

We encourage you to look beyond our town, interview some nonprofit organizations, marine biologists, and climate scientists and help the community understand the significant challenges posed by increased rain events and rising seas. As we plan for infrastructure that can weather the next 100-year storm, we are in a position to take advantage of significant outside funding if we follow the lead of other forward thinking towns and cities around the country.

As a board, we were disappointed to read the position espoused by the editorial board at The Camden Herald. We hope that this letter serves to better inform both the media and the public.

The Camden Select Board



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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Nov 26, 2019 13:24

I am with you on a thoughtful comprehensive plan. As for the Editorial board at the Camden herald....well one must sell papers!  Keep plugging on the issues and the conservational aspect. Ignore the neigh Sayers.

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever

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