Feb 8, 2005

Bay Management Blues

Maine's Bay Management Project off to Shaky Start.
Rockland. If the beginning of Maine's coastwide Bay Management Project is any indication, citizens, interest groups, state agencies and industry sectors will have to work hard if this long-awaited project to reform management of Maine's nearshore marine environment and its ecosystems is to reach its goal. For critics warn the present initiative appears to have many of the flaws of its predecessor, the Maine Aquaculture Task Force, whose January 30, 2004 report to the legislature resulted in the creation of the Bay Management Project.The February 3, 2005 Bay Management meeting brought eleven state officials to Rockland for what was billed as Sharing Public Waters: a Community Discussion to explore and document potential new and innovative concepts for the management of Maine’s embayments”. An early meeting planned for Ellsworth was postponed twice, once by weather and then by an automobile accident involving a vehicle carrying state agency staff to the meeting. See background on Maine Bay Management project. (Includes a transcript of the February 3rd meeting.)
The meeting program consisted of a series of power point presentations, followed by division of the attendees into breakout groups which each pondered a different element of bay management. The attendees then reformed, and a representative of each breakout group gave a short summary of the ideas and issues that its participants had identified.

Moderated by Esperanza Stancioff  who has two  two positions: University of Maine Cooperative Extension & Maine SeaGrant, the presenters included Kathleen Leyden, head of the State Planning Office's Coastal Program, Maine Department of Marine Resources Ecology Division director John Sowles, and Todd Burrowes, policy specialist with the State Planning Office.

Other officials at the meeting included Seth Barker DMR GIS coordinator, Mary Costigan, DMR aquaculture hearing officer, Vanessa Levesque, coastal fellow with SPO & DMR, Elizabeth Stevenson, a Coastal Program intern and University of Maine researcher, Jim Connors, senior planner at the Coastal Program, Sherman Hoyt fisheries outreach, Maine SeaGrant, and Sarah Gladu , a phytoplankton and water quality coordinator with SeaGrant and Maine Cooperative Extension.

Some of the ideas and issues generated by the groups included improved information sharing between municipalities to facilitate the work of town conservation committees and harbormasters; finding a way to give more weight to local input in the aquaculture decisionmaking process; giving more attention to the impact to the nearshore environment of increased herbicide and pesticide runoff from growth in coastal areas.

Several specific locations were identified as nearshore flashpoints: looming sprawl on the Saint George peninsula could increase pesticide runoff into southwestern Penobscot Bay, home of Maine's richest lobster grounds; and protection of eelgrass around Sears Island (many of those eelgrass meadows narrowly escaped elimination when a hotly contested industrial port proposal for the island was finally withdrawn in the mid 1990's).

It was noted in one group that a 1993 decision by the Maine legislature to exempt aquaculture from one of the state's chief environmental laws should be re-examined. While arguably helpful during the initial growth phase of commercial aquaculture in Maine state waters, the exemption of aquaculture from meeting the standards of the Site Location of Development Act keeps the Maine Department of Environmental Protection from sharing its considerable expertise on understanding landbased impacts to and from areas where aquaculture permits are sought.

While the meeting went smoothly, a number of criticisms were leveled at the process: instead of a public hearing or public meeting, the event was defined as a "community conversation". There was no opportunity for meeting attendees to give individual testimony or statements to the assembled officials; input was only taken during the small group breakout meetings, and that input was then summarized and abstracted before being presented to the full meeting by each subgroup's facilitator in two minute summaries. Further, there was no follow up discussion on those summaries; the meeting was ended once the last summary was concluded.

Another issue is the makeup of the advisory committee for the Bay Management Project. Glaringly absent from the advisory committee are any members of the Bay Management Coalition, which includes the Conservation Law Foundation, Sierra Club, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Friends of Blue Hill Bay, East Penobscot Bay Environmental Alliance and many others. Many of the advisory committee members picked instead also served on the state Aquaculture Task Force, whose final report took a dim view of bay management's potential for improving public participation in nearshore issues, instead seeing it as a potential threat to the growth of aquaculture.

Additional "community discussions" of the Bay Management Project will be held Feb 8th in Portland and shortly thereafter elsewhere on the Maine coast. They will be followed by 'midcourse workshops' in the summer and fall of 2005, and more public meetings in January and February of 2006. After a year of review and analysis, recommendations are to be delivered to the Maine legislature in January 2007.
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