Spurred by the activism of altruistic high school students who take initiatives to try to get their elders to take action to meet the challenges of our current existential climate crises, I am motivated to offer the benefit of my training and my experience in a way modest to try to push our small community towards a sensible approach to weathering our own storm in an environmental teapot. “Think globally, act locally” was the rallying cry of the early 1970s, when modern environmental issues first emerged.
What influences my opinion on the Montgomery Dam issue? I have a BA in Political Science and Environmental Studies from Williams College ’72 and an MS in Natural Resources from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) ’73, with a major in Environmental Education. Now retired, I ran the nation’s largest community gardening program, oversaw over 300 nature preserves as an administrator for The Nature Conservancy, ran a network of a dozen sanctuaries wildlife and education centers for the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and I was the executive director of the New England Wildflower Society (now Native Plant Society).
I’m also a landscape painter – I founded the Knox County Art Society – and an avid amateur landscaper and flower gardener. So I think as much as most people, I appreciate, at least conceptually, the complexities, the interconnectedness, and the beauty of the built environment and the natural world. Of course, I admire naturalistic landscape architecture as practiced by Frederick Law Olmstead and his followers, who brought the two together so harmoniously. We should be clear about the distinctions between the two, but the fate of the falls is obviously physically and aesthetically tied to Harbor Park.
I also admit a personal commercial interest in perpetuating Camden’s appeal as a tourist destination. My wife and I have housed over 100 different families from 35 states and four foreign countries for 12 years in the seasonal vacation cabin on our Pearl St. property, where we have lived for 32 years. One of the main ‘selling points’ of our rental is its ‘walking distance’ proximity to our attractive downtown including the beautiful waterfall of the Megunticook River.
My opinion regarding the future of Montgomery Dam: Rational actors with a stake in the future well-being of our community as a whole should not ask voters to take a non-negotiable, one-sided, simplistic position on a complex issue. , placing a subjective value above all, even to the exclusion of any other element. Those who do seem to discount the possibility that collecting and studying all kinds of information can help us arrive at the most satisfactory answer to the question of what, if anything, to do about the dam.
The idea that we can have things the way we want them by exerting sheer will—or in this case, political action—without regard to the laws of nature is the type of thinking that causes, not solves, problems. environmental. Looking at these issues through blinders is the kind of limited vision that is largely responsible for the environmental mess we find ourselves in today.
Other clever questions to be answered include: what will happen when the irresistible force – the flood waters of the river beyond anything we have yet known – meets the still object – a bay raised several feet due to sea level rise? Also, what would be the effect of a dam at the head of the harbour, or other structures that control or could control the flow of water into the river and/or bay?
Is it so hard to conceive that natural events – actually not so “natural” now that we humans are changing our climate so dramatically – could cause damage downtown, upriver, to the park we love or in port? To suggest such a prospect may sound alarmist, but how many of us knew a few years ago that the world would already experience the floods, fires, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes and other extreme weather shocks that it is? Does anyone remember the images we saw last year of floods in Europe, much of which affected small towns along the rivers? Could we have a similar disaster here, even on a smaller scale? Are we going to ignore all of these obvious warnings and pretend that none of this applies to us in little old Camden, Maine, USA?
To be realistic, shouldn’t we consider the possibility of adverse events caused by global warming, and what steps can be taken to mitigate or even prevent them? Such measures could possibly relate to the river, dams and other structures in and around the river and the inner harbour. Could the still undeveloped Tannery Mill property even play a role in managing river floodwaters as a kind of overflow pond, or even replacing some public car parks, now threatened with periodic flooding – l one or the other being compatible with its use as a park or an open space? Is it time to think outside the box? How can we be sure that such measures, which may seem crazy now, will not be necessary, and sooner than we think?
Yes, those who appreciate the aesthetics of the Harbor Park area, as it is, have a valid point of view. I’m sympathetic, but we need to see more together. What about those with a financial interest – owners of properties around the lake or adjacent to the river, owners of downtown commercial and residential buildings, their commercial tenants, yacht and schooner operators, Lyman -Morse and others that I’m not thinking of at the moment? Public works concerns us all, but some of us may be more directly affected than others.
The list of potential interests, public and private, linked to the flow of water in the inner harbor is long and varied. Shouldn’t we all at least have the opportunity to understand the ramifications of a decision to block? There are also people whose legitimate concern is the obstruction of fish migration, which – pardon the pun – also has ecological ripple effects. Pisces have no financial interest, nor voices or votes, but they are also important!
If I understood his recent declarations correctly, a group wants to accelerate a decision to “save” the fall of the dam – forever? Unconditionally? “Come what may? Regardless of cost? — via a popular vote of a potentially uninformed electorate driven primarily by sentiment. Should we, voters, agree to disregard all conceivable and potential implications, unintended consequences, or costs of preserving Montgomery Dam as is, without considering anything but the aesthetics of the falls?
Without further consideration, I believe it is neither fair, reasonable, nor responsible to ask voters to make such a decision at this time, any more than it would be reasonable and responsible to impose the opposite alternative, i.e. the dam should be removed, period. And what about a middle ground. . . make changes?
Decisions about the interface between our built and natural environment made in 2022 must take into account, within our means, the new extreme climatic changes that are inexorably heading our way. We do not live in a static situation. To not try to foresee, anticipate and consider these ramifications as fully as possible would be to stick your head in the sand.
The dam is not the park, and the river is not the port, but the different components of the system that we are talking about are interdependent. The Olmstead brothers, who worked between 1928 and 1935, did not plan or build a major feature in our cityscape with climate change in mind. If they had been so clairvoyant, we could have enjoyed for about 90 years an entirely different reality from the one we have come to love.
For example, looking to the future, with rising sea levels, does the outlet breakwater separating Harbor Park from the river where it meets the harbor still make sense? Does it still work as expected even now? Also, will the existing drainage infrastructure, both natural and built, be sufficient to handle larger total rainfall events and more intense single events? Can it handle heavy rain even now?
Let’s get together and analyze the facts and imagine the possibilities, as best we can discern them, and have a thoughtful discussion. Let’s not jump to either conclusion and work towards this as a community with a common interest in achieving the best possible outcome for all, rather than facing each other as adversaries. We all lose if we make a hasty and ill-informed decision. The need for “due diligence” comes to mind.
When the Great Fire destroyed the wooden buildings that made up Camden town center in 1892, our predecessors didn’t rebuild everything with wood. We might want to be so open to change, if and when, all things considered, a change turns out to be part of a prudent solution – but wouldn’t it have been better if they had built with stone and brick before the fire? “An ounce of prevention is better than cure.”
Although we may wish otherwise, times are changing. The one thing certain about the future is that it won’t look like the past, or even the present. Of course, this is an emotional issue, but we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to face it with as much thought as feeling. Of course, it’s complicated, but we must tackle as carefully as possible a constellation of problems that will not have an entirely satisfactory solution. “Saving the dam” could do more harm than good.
It’s too much for individual voters to deal with on their own, which is why we have elected officials, salaried city officials and consultants working for us. Let’s trust them to do their job and not prejudge their advisability of doing it with a premature vote, or whether there should be a vote to ‘save the dam’, I believe that even if we like it as it is, we should vote “No” for now.