CAMDEN — Voting unanimously, the Camden Select Board agreed Aug. 23 on a resolution crafted by Town Attorney Bill Kelly and Town Manager Audra Caler to not preserve, modify or remove the Montgomery Dam without voter approval. But the board did not vote unanimously when it came to expending $54,439 on an environmental study of the Menguticook River.
The river was the focal point of three agenda items at the regularly Select Board meeting.
All three agenda items pertained to the Megunticook River Project, an ambitious effort initiated by the town to increase community resilience and restore habitat in the Megunticook River Watershed. A core point of contention swirling around the project has been the idea of removing the Montgomery Dam, which sits at the head of Camden Harbor where the Megunticook River empties into the ocean.
Town Attorney Bill Kelly said the resolution was, “essentially a neutral statement to clarify some of the confusion that has taken place for several months.”
That confusion has resulted in competing measures initiated by citizens. Some want the dam removed, others want it to remain intact, and consider it a legacy landscape icon of the town.
Earlier in the summer, the Save the Dam Falls Committee had asked the Camden Select Board to place an article before voters in November to save the Montgomery Dam. Should the town refuse the request, the Save the Dam Falls Committee said it would hold a special town meeting Sept. 27.
Speaking at the Aug. 23 Select Board meeting, Town Manager Caler said there has been concern, “that the Select Board might take an action without approval from voters.”
She said the resolution ultimately states that, “the voters of Camden are the authority to make any decisions.”
Select Board Chair Bob Falciani likened the resolution to a, “hard stake in the ground.”
The resolution is to, “make everybody confident that we won’t make any decisions without going through the voting process,” he said.
While the Select Board endorsed the resolution, member Tom Hedstrom asked if repairs could be made to the dam, even with the signed resolution. He cited the dam’s deteriorating condition.
“It doesn’t look great right now,” he said.
Caler said dam maintenance expenditures could continue to be effected through the municipality’s regular budget process.
Attorney Kelly reinforced the point: “The resolution does not limit the Select Board to do the normal things it might do, nor limit repair in the next budget cycle. It is essentially a neutral statement to clarify some of the confusion that has taken place for several months. This resolution seen as a nice simple vehicle. It isn’t intended as a limiting action. It is what it is and intended to be neutral.”
Hedstrom asked if a minor repair might be considered preservation.
Kelly said the resolution does not limit maintenance.
“If something needs to be painted it would be budgeted and voted on,” he said.
“It’s voted on by the voters,” said Hedstrom. “I’m satisfied by that.”
Update: on Aug. 25, the Save the Dam Falls Committee issued a press release saying: “The Save the Dam Falls Committee announced today that their plans to call a Special Town Meeting have been put on hold. The committee had been planning to hold a Special Town Meeting in late September to fulfill the requirements of a peoples’ petition for a vote to preserve Montgomery Dam and the waterfall at the head of the harbor.”
But, the release said, “We still reserve the right to call a town meeting, but if we can rely on the Select Board to live up to their resolution, there will be no need for a Special Town Meeting.”
Megunticook River baseline monitoring
In addition to the resolution, the Camden Select Board considered spending money on a Megunticook River water quality testing program, at the request of FB Environmental, Portland-based consultants retained to help the town craft a vision for the River that runs through its residential and commercial zones.
Approval of hiring FB Environmental occurred at a July Select Board meeting. The money to spend on what was defined then as Phase One of the project derived from remaining funds associated with a previous grant received by Camden to complete the 2021 Megunticook River Feasibility Report. That report outlines the existing state of the river and its watershed, and proposes environmental restoration actions.
The first order of business in engaging the consultants, as cited at is July meeting by the Select Board, was to create an advisory task force consisting of Camden citizens interested in the Megunticook River Project.
At the Aug. 23 meeting, FB Environmental founder and owner Forrest Bell said the board that the river’s health needed assessment. Bell attended the meeting via Zoom.
He requested the town spend $54,349 on water sampling research and to gather chemical, biological and physical data of the river.
“FBE proposes to assess the baseline water quality condition of the Megunticook River from the outlet of Megunticook Lake to the outlet of the Megunticook River at West Penobscot Bay,” he wrote, an an Aug. 18 memo to Caler. “This portion of the Megunticook River has not been formally assessed for key water quality indicators of river health.”
He explained Aug. 23 that the chemical and biological data for the Megunticook is limited.
Bell likened the process to a medical check-up, complete with blood panels and vital signs assessed.
“It’s complex and is important to get the information,” he said.
The scope of work includes baseline monitoring at river cross sections, using seven stations. (Read the full proposal here.)
In addition to the chemical analysis, Bell said the biological assessment would include taking stock of what creatures live by the river.
“What is happening in the watershed,” he said. “Can fish live healthily in the river?”
The physical analysis would look at geomorphology, the process of the river and how it changes and moves.
“Rivers are dynamic and can often move over time,” Bell said.
Bell said the contract with the town had been signed two weeks ago.
“It is still a new project,” Bell said.
Current goals are to review existing research and identify data gaps.
He said the effort to develop a structure for the citizen advisory task force is also underway, and invited potential participants to email email@example.com. Bell said the task force is to be formed by Sept. 5, with the first meeting scheduled for late September.
Bell said he already had 12 to 15 submitted names.
While the board discussed funding sources for the monitoring program, member Stephanie French questioned the value of conducting research prior to convening the advisory task force.
“My thought process is more on the problem we have with the town,” she said. “the problem is that we have let this situation divide our community.”
She advocated for putting, “the trust of the community first on the list.”
“That was promised with the task force,” she said. “I do not want to see any more contracts signed or and funding given until that task force has been formed, and agrees that this is what is needed.”
French said the committee/task force should be included with the decision-making.
Other board members, however, said the environmental monitoring was fundamental.
“There’s divisions in terms of the dams, but basic water quality is a concern of all Camden residents,” said board member Alison McKellar. “I see this as an opportunity to address those things that are independent. We should be doing the same thing at Hosmer Pond.”
Hedstrom asked, “How soon would we see the results of this proposal.”
“The results would be in in the fall,” said Bell.
After that, he said, analysis: “would need to happen. It could happen during part of this task force process.”
Voting 4 to 1, with French opposing, the board agreed to spend $42,000 that is left in the Megunticook River preservation line — money that had been appropriated for prior consultant work but never expended – and $12,000 from a balance carried forward into the town’s 2023 budget.
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