Camden group pledges $11,500 for Montgomery Dam repairs to be made in advance of 2023 tourist season

Tue, 01/24/2023 - 7:00pm

    CAMDEN — Members of the citizen-formed Save the Dam Falls Committee pledged to the Camden Select Board at its Jan. 17 meeting that they would contribute $11,500 to the town to make repairs on the Montgomery Dam, at the head of Camden Harbor where the Megunticook River empties into the ocean.

    Several took turns at the podium speaking to the Select Board, first thanking the town for fixing the sluice gate, and then urging the town to make more repairs to a downtown dam that they want to ensure remains intact.

    “It has been a pleasure to witness water spilling over Montgomery Dam since the sluiceway gate was repaired by David St. Laurent [Camden Public Works Director] just before our Christmas by the Sea event,” said Save the Dam Falls Committee member Roger Akeley, of Camden. 

    He said it is time to make short-term repairs to the dam in advance of the 2023 tourist season.

    “We know that there is no longer a budget item to make such repairs and that town staff hours are limited,” he said. “Therefore, we are making a stakeholder-raised fund available to make temporary repairs to Montgomery Dam in order to reclaim some of the deteriorated appearance we have seen in recent years.  This fund has been collected in the form of $11,500 in pledges.”

    The Montgomery Dam, its deterioration and its future, remains an ongoing focus of the town and is included in the charge assigned to the Megunticook River Citizens Advisory Committee by the Select Board. The broader task of that committee is to, “provide recommendations to the Select Board to engage with the community, stakeholders, and grant funding agencies, and provide a due diligence process to advance viable options for preserving, improving sustainability, and recommending resiliency outcomes for the Megunticook River and its watershed.”

    It has not been decided whether the town ultimately wants to remove the Montgomery Dam, a possibility that has generated much debate and is the reason the Save the Dam Falls Committee is at work protecting its interests.

    “The impetus for the pledge drive was the long period before Christmas when the sluice gate of Montgomery Dam was left wide open, so water ran under the dam rather than over it,” said Tom Zumwalt, representing the Save the Dam Falls Committee member, on Jan. 23. “As a result there was no waterfall, and very little water in the millpond.  The area looked awful.  If it had been left that way until warmer weather the area actually would have stunk.”

    Pledges came in from local business owners and Camden citizens, including property owners along Montgomery Dam and Waterfall and Megunticook River.

    Repairs cited by Akeley include sealing cracks around granite and concrete, removing plants and organic matter in the cracks of the dam, and, “leveling the rim of the dam to recreate the infinity pool effect of the mill pond,” he told the Select Board. 
    “The short-term goal is to repair the lip of the dam, so the spillway is level for its entire 100-foot length,” said Ken Gross, a member of the STDF Committee. “That way, no matter how much or how little water there is, it will cascade over the dam at all points simultaneously.”
    Zumwalt added: “Since the town has shown no interest in maintaining the dam recently, we assume it has no intention of maintaining it during the next two years, so we initiated the pledge drive. We think the repairs paid for by the initial pledged amount will last until the River Advisory Committee has completed its study.  If more funds are needed, and if the [town] does not cover those future expenses, we might have to look for additional pledges.  However we hope that will not be necessary.”
    He said: “We hope the initial amount pledged will cover the repairs that need to be done immediately, and that those repairs will be sufficient to keep water flowing over the dam until the city's River Advisory Committee completes its study,” he said.  “The [town] has made assurances that once the Advisory Committee finishes its study there will be a vote on the larger questions about the long term future of the dam.  We are trusting that will happen.  However, the river study could take two years or longer.  Since the town has shown no interest in maintaining the dam recently, we assume it has no intention of maintaining it during the next two years, so we initiated the pledge drive.”
    At the Jan. 17 Select Board meeting, Chair Bob Falciani thanked the members of the STDF Committee for their, “very generous offer.”

    Town Manager Audra Caler said Jan. 24 that the Select Board must formally accept the pledge funds before further action is taken.

    At its most recent meeting, Jan. 17, the Megunticook River Advisory Committee listened to a presentation about the river ecology, courtesy of municipal consultants FB Environmnental Associates.

    That study, the presentation of which was followed by committee questions and consultant answers Jan. 17, was approved by the Select Board in August. The board voted unanimously to expend $54,439 on an environmental study of the Menguticook River.

    A question was asked at the Jan. 17 committee meeting  as to whether it is possible to say how healthy the river currently is or would the answer depend on further monitoring.

    “Although the data collected in 2022 provides some preliminary information on the health of the Megunticook River, it is difficult to make an overall assessment at this time due to the limited data available,” the answer stated. “Only a few water quality parameters were monitored in 2022 over the course of only two months. More data on a variety of parameters over a longer time period is needed in order to adequately assess the baseline health of the Megunticook River.”

    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at; 207-706-6657