CAMDEN — In early September, Rockport resident Emily Lusher composed and circulated a citizen survey focusing on the Montgomery Dam, which sits at the head of Camden Harbor.
The survey emerged as an intense debate over the future of the Dam was taking place in conversations, at municipal meetings and on Facebook. On, Nov. 3, the Camden Select Board agreed to continue its consideration of recommendations included in the July 31, 2021 Megunticook River Feasibility Report. Recommendations in that report include removing the Knox Mill dam.
Citizens had submitted two distinctly different petitions to the Select Board at its Nov. 3 meeting, asking for their warrant articles to placed before voters at the June Town Meeting.
One question read: "As part of the restoration of the Megunticook River, do you favor the Select Board proceeding with activities such as seeking grant funding on behalf of the town to improve river water quality, reduce flood risk and facilitate fish passage at the outlet of the river, including the removal of the Montgomery Dam to allow for a natural waterfall."
The other petition read: “Shall the Town of Camden protect, maintain, and repair the existing Montgomery Dam near Harbor Park in Camden.”
The Select Board agreed Nov. 3 at a regularly scheduled meeting that the timing was too premature for any placement of articles before voters at June Town Meeting. They agreed with Town Manager Audra Caler that more information about implementing recommendations in the study was necessary.
“We have gotten an extension on the engineering, design grant,” Caler said, Nov 3. “It is likely that we are six months out now. I don’t think there is going to be anything in the June ballot to officially decide on. It’s very early stages Any specific decisions about what we are going to do, what it is going to cost, where the money is going to come from — we are a long ways away from that.”
She continued: “There simply isn’t any more information because there is a lot more to do before we get more information.”
Any talk of a decision, or putting anything on the ballot, “is only going to cut off any further investigation,” she said, emphasizing that June is too early for any decisions.
Lusher said in September that she stepped forward with the survey to gather community opinions for the town.
“I think this would be a good way for the town to receive input from a maximum number of town residents and visitors,” she said, in a Sept. 10 news release that she circulated. “The survey that I have written addresses the key issues currently and provides insight to both the Committee and the Town and a baseline for the coming debate.”
Lusher said she had taken her survey idea to town officials, as well as a new citizens group called Save the Dam Falls Committee. The latter endorsed the survey, she said. The Select Board and the town manager did not, Lusher said.
In her September survey announcement, Lusher said: "I have conducted hundreds of studies for businesses, nonprofits, and government entities. As a research professional, I am always careful to be nonbiased and to have no preconceived notions for survey results.”
Lusher used Survey Monkey to create an online survey. She also circulated printed surveys at local businesses. The survey was in effect from Sept. 8 to Oct. 11.
Lusher was not compensated for producing, executing and collating the survey, she said.
“It was a volunteer effort,” she said, Oct. 27, the day Lusher released her findings in another news release.
From the results, she produced various charts and graphics. Those responding to the survey included local Midcoast residents. Further elaborating, that category included, “those living in towns around Camden who work in or visit Camden,” Lusher said.
She said that of the 955 respondents, 78 percent were in favor of restoring the Montgomery Dam, “in its current configuration.”
She had asked:
She then concluded:
“The plurality of those answering the survey (42%) were Camden residents and another 19% were locals who work in or visit Camden,” she wrote, in her findings. “A third (35%) was visitors from elsewhere. (Some respondents fit more than one category leading to a total of over 100%.) Differences in responses among these groups are pointed out in this report when they occur.”
Her categories also included business owners, and “others.”
To the classification of the latter, she said: “I did not collect that information, but some volunteered that they have family living in Camden or did so in the past.”
In her survey, Lusher asked:
From the results Lusher further concluded:
“All respondents were aware of the waterfall at the head of the harbor. Those unaware were asked not to complete the survey.
“Respondents were asked to choose their opinion on two statements related to the harbor and the waterfall. Almost all agreed that the harbor was a key part of the town’s charm. Slightly fewer but still the majority said that the waterfall was an important feature of the harbor. Visitors are somewhat more likely to strongly agree about the importance of the waterfall than residents but results are similar when strongly and somewhat agree are combined.”
“Respondents were asked for one word that described the waterfall,” she said. “The top 50 words are shown in the following ‘word cloud.’ The majority of the words supplied are positive including beautiful, scenic, lovely, historic and picturesque.”
“Views of the waterfall and harbor were very positive and the waterfall was considered to be a key feature of Camden and a draw for visitors. Asked for a single word to describe the waterfall, most were positive including beautiful, iconic and picturesque. Almost all Camden residents and most visitors were aware that the waterfall was created by the dam.”
She also asked:
From the results, Lusher concluded:
“86% of respondents were “aware that the waterfall is created by a dam on the Megunticook River as it flows into Camden Harbor”. Almost all residents were aware of the dam (96%); awareness of the dam was lower among visitors (70%).
Respondents were presented with the three options for the dam laid out in the Interfluve report. Among all respondents, three-quarters preferred that the dam be restored.
Lusher said in her results summary: “Those who preferred removal of the dam focused their comments on three major topics:
- That the dam does not create the waterfall and it would still be beautiful with water flowing over the rocks – different but still attractive
- Restoring the natural watercourse and allowing fish passage
- Flooding and future environmental concerns
- Conversely, those who prefer restoration at current height or rebuild at half height (Comments from this group did not differ substantially from the restoration group) cited:
- Please don’t remove it, it would be sad to see it gone
- It is part of the charm, history and uniqueness of Camden
- It is a tourist attraction drawing visitors
Lusher’s last survey questions were:
“Almost all respondents (95%) felt that the voters of Camden should be involved in the decision on the dam’s future,” she concluded. “The roles of the Select Board, Town Manager and Library Trustees were deemed less important.
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