Two conflicting citizen’s petitions relating to the fate of a 200-year-old dam in downtown Camden will not go to voters this summer, the Camden Select Board decided Tuesday.
Two groups had submitted petitions to the town, one asking voters if they supported the preservation of the Montgomery Dam, and the other asking voters if they supported river restoration efforts on the Megunticook River, including the removal of the dam.
The Select Board rejected sending either petition to voters in June based on a recommendation from the town attorney, who said if both were to pass it would create confusion since the nature of the advisory petitions are conflicting.
Camden has been exploring the possibility of removing the Montgomery Dam in recent years since the dam no longer serves a formal purpose and poses some environmental concerns, like the potential for future flood risks. But town officials say they are still working to evaluate options and a vote would be more appropriate when there are concrete recommendations on the table.
“We are still working on it we will continue to work on it and I don’t believe anything should get in the way of us doing what we were elected to do which is to give people a thorough analysis of all options, bring it to the table, with community input of course, to determine what is the best recommendation to put into a binding warrant vote at some point in time. That’s the bottom line,” Camden Selectboard Chair Bob Falciani said.
Members of the group behind the petition to preserve the dam, called Save the Dam Falls, were strongly opposed to the select board not putting the petitions on the June town meeting warrant. They accused the town of subverting the petition process and denying residents of their right to vote on the matter.
“Those citizen’s deserve not to be disenfranchised, that is what you are doing. You are pulling the rug out from this democratic process,” Ken Gross, a member of Save the Dam Falls said. “We are adamantly opposed to this notion of putting it off, of disenfranchising our petitioners.”
Town attorney, Bill Kelly, said the select board has the discretion to decide whether or not citizen’s petitions are advanced to voters. He also rebuffed the disenfranchisement allegation, since voters have had the chance to weigh in on the river restoration issue through the approval of line items relating to the topic in the town’s budget in recent years.
Kelly consulted with the Maine Municipal Association prior to making his recommendation.
Not all petitioners were opposed to putting off a vote on the dam.
A member of Restore Megunticook ― the group behind the petition in favor of exploring river restoration ― said he supported the select board’s decision and felt a vote would be more appropriate when the town had more comprehensive information to present.
“We want a vision that is comprehensible to the town residents and takes into account the factors involved in flood control, aesthetics, environmental and ecological benefits,” Tony Grassi, of the Restore Megunticook group, said. “We don’t think you’re disenfranchising the voters at all, we think you are on a course to allow the voters to actually make an educated decision rather than one on a narrow subject in too short a time frame.”
Several people, including members of the select board, spoke in favor of forming a citizen’s advisory committee in relation to the dam to create a body where people with differing perspectives can help the town consider the issue.