It was a pleasure to read Sarah Miller’s thoughtful piece on the timing of the vote for Montgomery Dam. It was a model of civil discourse that I hope to live up to.
I agree with her premise, that the town needs more discussion on whether or not to destroy Montgomery Dam and its waterfall, but I disagree with her conclusion: that a vote would be premature.
The vote, by the way, is likely to take place at the time of the June 2022 meeting, which is seven months away.
Placing a vote on the town warrant is a service to the town, because, if the dam is preserved, it will remove a hugely contentious portion of the issue of river restoration. Once Montgomery Dam is assured of survival, the town can turn to assessing the value of fish passage and flood mitigation. Those parts of the project can then stand on their merits.
The Save the Dam Falls committee has done another service to the town in requiring the town to have at least one public hearing and perhaps several on the value of the dam and waterfall. Months ago, some members of the Select Board and town officials made a decision that they sincerely thought was in the town’s best interest: to remove Montgomery Dam. And then they acted on that decision, using town resources, hosting talks with advocates, posting videos, using the town website, and hiring consultants, designers, and engineers. The deep mistake was that they did not first check with the townspeople whether or not their decision truly was in the town’s best interest.
There will now, thanks to the Save the Dam Falls movement, be public discussions on the value of preserving the legacy, beauty, and economic vitality represented by the dam, waterfall, and millpond. Many people feared, with good reason, that the option to save the dam was never going to be offered or discussed.
It is important to underscore that the dam does not prevent flood mitigation nor does it prevent building a fish passage.
These are discussions that those town officials have carefully avoided and would rather not have. The vote will not be premature, it will be very timely and necessary, and will prompt the kind of discussion that Sarah Miller and others have pointed out has been missing from official forums.
Ken Gross lives in Camden