Camden residents have asked the Select Board to hold a townwide vote on whether a 200-year-old dam should be torn down or preserved. But it is unclear how — or if — the petitions will move forward.
The Camden Select Board received two different petitions seeking a vote on the Montgomery Dam at its meeting last week, each proposing a different outcome. The town has been exploring the possibility of removing the dam — located in downtown Camden — for the past two years since the dam no longer serves a purpose and poses flood risks.
The Select Board has not yet taken action on either petition. Camden Town Manager Audra Caler said the petitions might be premature, because the board has not yet decided how it wants to move forward with the dam and its possible removal.
“[W]e have a situation where the petition process seems to be preempting a decision of the Select Board. The Select Board is still in the process of doing their due diligence in regards to the Montgomery Dam,” Town Manager Audra Caler said.
Discussion surrounding removal of the dam has sparked opposition from Save the Dam Falls, a group of residents who feel the Montgomery Dam is an important part of the town’s image and history. They say the dam, and the waterfall it creates, should be preserved so it can be enjoyed by onlookers and they also worry about how removing the dam would affect nearby Harbor Park.
Two members of the group presented a petition to the Select Board last week seeking a ballot measure before voters asking: “Shall the town of Camden protect, preserve, maintain and repair the existing Montgomery Dam near Harbor Park in Camden.”
But others would rather see the dam removed.
Camden resident Barb Ohland thanked the Select Board for the work it has been doing around Megunticook River restoration efforts.
Ohland said a group of residents in favor of river restoration efforts have been meeting informally and are requesting that the board ask voters if: “As part of the restoration of the Megunticook River, do you favor the select board accepting grant funds on behalf of the town to reduce flooding and facilitate fish passage at the outlet of the river including the removal of the Montgomery Dam.”
In Camden, if residents want to put a ballot question before voters, they must first submit a request to the Select Board. The board will either decide to put the question on the annual town meeting warrant, set a special town meeting to vote on the issue or reject the request. If the request is rejected, the petitioners would then go through the process of collecting signatures to get the question on the ballot.
Typically, a petition is brought forward following an action taken by the Select Board, or an action deliberately not taken, Caler said.That’s not the case this time though. The Select Board has not taken any formal action on how to proceed with the dam and potential removal or restoration.
The town is still awaiting final design concepts, engineering plans and cost estimates for removal, as well as information on what it would cost to repair the dam, Caler said. It is not clear when the board will have all of this information, but once it does, Caler said the Select Board will formally begin seeking public input on how to move forward with the dam.
Officials have said that any final decision on removal would come down to a townwide vote.
Caler said she anticipates that the Select Board will discuss the recent petitions in an upcoming meeting.
“I think the Select Board would like to explain to both groups of petitioners that the Select Board is currently in the middle of a due diligence process of obtaining, sharing and deciphering expert opinions on the road to more clearly defining goals for both the Montgomery Dam and the entire Megunticook watershed. Therefore, any action on either petition cuts short the public deliberative process,” Caler said.