The Megunticook River descends from the Montgomery Dam onto exposed ledge, creating a popular waterfall. Credit: Lauren Abbate / BDN

The Camden Select Board will not advance two petitions regarding the Montgomery Dam to a June town vote.

The board rejected the petitions at a meeting last week. While one petition sought to have residents vote on preserving the downtown dam, another asked voters to allow the Select Board to pursue grant funding for the dam’s removal. Both were received last month.

The Select Board has yet to make a decision on how to move forward with the potential removal of the Montgomery Dam and board members said advancing the petitions at this point would be premature. However, town officials have said any final decisions on the dam would go to a townwide vote.

“We’re not ready to put anything out to voters,” Select Board Member Alison McKellar said. “We are at, in my opinion, the beginning of a conversation and not the end of it.”

While circumstances may differ, conversations regarding dam removal often  generate controversy in Maine, and even successful efforts can take years.

Over the last two years, town officials in Camden have been exploring the  possibility of removing the 200-year-old dam since it no longer serves a purpose and poses flooding risks. 

In that time, the town has commissioned two studies looking at the dam and the broader Megunticook River watershed. Both studies recommended that the dam be removed in order to provide the most benefit in terms of river restoration and mitigate future upstream flooding risks.

However, opponents say the removal would rob the town of a piece of Camden’s history and a popular downtown attraction, as well as have negative impacts on nearby Harbor Park. Residents opposed to the removal formed a group, Save the Dam Falls, which submitted the petition seeking a vote on preserving the dam.

Another group, in favor of river restoration efforts called “Restore Megunticook!” has also formed and is behind the petition in support of removal.

The groups could still get their questions on the ballot, though. To do so now, petitioners must collect signatures from registered Camden voters — equal to at least 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election —  and submit them to the town office for verification. If verified, the Select Board must place the question on the next town meeting warrant, according to Camden’s town charter.

Barb Ohland, a member of “Restore Megunticook!” said the group does not have any immediate plans to collect signatures, though they are prepared to do so if the opposing group is successful in getting its question on the town meeting warrant. Ohland said “Restore Megunticook!” would like “to allow the Select Board to develop their own plan on bringing the river restoration issue to the public.”

Tom Rothwell, a member of Save the Dam Falls, said Monday that the group plans to collect signatures to move their petition forward.