Swan Lake Dam was the topic of discussion Saturday, Nov. 7, at a public hearing held at the Town Office parking lot. Approximately 30 residents came to hear First Selectman Cindy Boguen speak about why the town should approve spending $150,000 to purchase the dam from Goose River Hydro.

“This is our one and only shot,” a masked Boguen told The Republican Journal on Saturday. “It will be our town’s dam.”

Goose River Hydro, the current owner, originally offered the dam at $100,000, but after another entity made an offer to buy it, she said, the price went up to $150,000. Even though it is not the best offer, she said, “it is the best way to protect the town” from the possibility of having the dam removed.

Previously, a buyer from Connecticut, whom Boguen described as an environmentalist millionaire, wanted to remove the dam. If the dam were removed, she said, it would change the entire lake and all the lakefront properties. “The dam holds back about 8 feet of water.”

Boguen said Garnett Robinson, the assessor's agent, predicted the town would have a “sudden and severe” loss of tax revenue if the dam were removed. “Local taxes could increase up to three times the current rate."

“We would no longer have a lake if the dam was removed,” she said.

Residents asked Boguen how the town expected to pay for the purchase of the dam.

Boguen said taxes would not be raised to subsidize the purchase, and added that the town had put off building a salt and sand shed and will use unappropriated funds to cover the rest. “This will not raise your taxes,” she said.

Conversely, if the town’s tax base were reduced, as anticipated, by the removal of the dam and subsequent loss of lakefront property, that would raise taxes, she said.

“This affects more than just the lakeside homeowners,” Boguen said. “It would affect our whole town.” The removal of the dam would also affect Swan Lake State Park, located at the north end of the lake, impacting swimming, canoeing and fishing. There would be a huge environmental impact if the dam were lost, Boguen said, including wildlife in the area that encompasses the watershed.

With the purchase of the dam, water rights are also conveyed, she said.

Boguen explained that "water rights" means the town will keep the same contract previously negotiated with Goose River Hydro for the same high and low water levels. “It’s an easement to keep the water level where it’s at now,” she said. “We control the water level, and once the water leaves the dam, the water is (Goose River Hydro's).” Goose River still owns four dams downstream.

The town would not be generating any electricity at the dam, she said, since there are no turbines located there, and because of that, the town will not need a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The regulation of the dam reverts back to the state, she said, and added that she had been in contact with an agent at the state level who found no issue with the purchase of the dam.

Initially, the town thought about buying the dam with the two other towns that share the shoreline — Frankfort and Searsport — but it became impractical to have to wait for three separate town meetings to make a decision, Boguen said.

She also said grants are available for towns that own dams, but it would be hard to make it work with three towns. The other two towns are very supportive of Swanville's desire to purchase the dam, Boguen said. She would like to set up a maintenance account and ask the towns of Frankfort and Searsport to contribute to it.

Maintenance responsibilities would fall to the town’s Dam Committee, with the addition of a representative from Searsport and Frankfort.

“They (the Dam Committee) are already doing it and will continue to do it,” she said. The Belfast Water District did not want to be part of the purchase, Boguen said, even though the water flow does affect the basin.

When asked about personal injury or property damage liability associated with the dam, Boguen said the town would not need to change its current property insurance or add coverage.

One of the Dam Committee members was asked about the current condition of the dam. “Will we need to replace it in two years?” he said, ”No, but there will be a cost to maintain the dam.”

A resident raised the point that one could easily spend upwards of $150,000 in court fighting a legal battle if someone wanted to remove the dam.

“As a selectman, our position is to help our town as best we can,” Boguen said. “I didn’t really want to roll the dice for the town.”

A vote will take place Nov. 21 at 10 a.m., at the Town Hall parking lot to see if residents approve spending $150,000 toward the purchase of Swan Lake Dam. Masks are required.