May 30, 2008

Sears Island - the mote in BDN's editorial eye.

It's a pleasure to see new editorial leadership at the Bangor Daily News, especially someone arising from the ranks of BDN's veteran beat reporters - Tom Groening. We'll miss seeing and talking to you at at Penobscot Bay events, Tom.

However, the editorial 'Saving Sears Island' shows that Tom and/or other BDN editors need a crash course in Sears Island issues and Penobscot Bay ecology. We strongly urge them to get that by coming to the June 6th Sears Island Teach-In outside the Congregational Church of Searsport. The church is simultaneously host to a meeting of the Sears Island Joint Use Planning Committee. The two groups will doubtless mingle. The learning potential is tremendous. All are welcome! This means you, reader.

But let's get down to just one of the many brass tacks that makes reading the Bangor Daily News' editorial so painful.

The fundamental reason, the overriding purpose and need claimed for the port zoning plan is that building a port on Sears Island "may one day be deemed critical to Maine’s economic survival", as the editorial writer puts it.

Come now. The day that the change of use of any land, any location in Maine is truly "deemed critical to Maine's economic survival" it can and will be exploited for whatever that survival purpose is.

Whether it be a waterfront estate, a lobster dock or a natural island, if the state of Maine were in such dislocation that only a new container port plugged into her coast in a certain location would keep Mainers from ruin and anarchy, such a location would be speedily and rightly condemned, and those containers of economic salvation would shortly start flowing off on or off the ships.

The state of Maine will of course take care of its people should the need arise. It already has all the legal resources to do so. A fast track to let speculative investors rush in and build a needless port on Maine public land, despoiling the upper Bay region of its clean air and healthy marine environment while degrading an island of unparalleled and irreplaceable environmental quality and biodiversity - meanwhile squeezing every possible tax deferment or abatement from Maine taxpayers it can - does not benefit our region.

Speaking of 'economic survival', the mainstream scientific community of New England and the region's new creative economists will no doubt be willing to explain in great detail to JUPC members how building and operating a container port would itself threaten the 'economic survival' of the strong tourism, resort and fishing economies of the greater Penobscot Bay.

What or who will compensate commercial and recreational fishers? Summer camps and resorts? Those Mainers falling ill from asthma, which seems to follow closely behind container port construction elsewhere in the USA? All harmed by the new pollution, including invasives-rich ballast water and by lost critical nursery areas, that would follow from approving this port zone, and inciting some enterprising free marketeers to make a literal killing by building a container port, fouling the Penobscot Bay environment for a decade, then bailing out once the tax incentives decline. Leaving Maine the poorer for its pains.

The Port Baldacci plan for Sears Island, in closing, appears little more than a tawdry if carefully executed attempt to pave the way for global investors and port speculators to punch a briefly profitable new global trade port into the coast of Maine. Even if it ends up primarily as empty and virtually unused as the Estes Head port in Eastport, brainchild of Brian Nutter. Nutter was rewarded for the Eastport "port to nowhere" by being made head of the Maine Port Authority.

Now Brian, part of the JUPC, has come to our bay, and is busy promoting another needless port. Shall we listen to him? He's already set to move to yet another new port directorship - a major grain port on the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, Indiana. What Sears Island and Penobscot Bay be like when he finally heads south?

In our next entry we'll take a look at BDN editors' comprehension of the ecology at stake, (and award them a D-).

May 29, 2008

It's the estuary, Sierra Club!

Sears Island is the heart of an elegant estuary that suffuses the nutrient laden waters of the great Penobscot River with the nutrient laden waters of the Gulf of Maine. (Click image for larger version.)

The result: an ecological paradise for the larvae, the young and the grownups of countless wild residents of our bay.

If we unclog that vital intertidal passageway between Stockton Harbor and Long Cove, if we leave the wild shallows of Sears Island undegraded, the Harbor's clams will rebound to their old abundances with almost frightening speed, and the Bay will become groundfish central once more.

C'mon Sierrans. The port plan's a pig in a poke! Bail from JUPC! Save Penobscot Bay



May 26, 2008

Sears Island protectors take Sierra Club to Task

Sierra Club targeted by fishery activists at 'funeral march' on Maine's largest wild island. Good work, Island Huggers and Bay Huggers! Onward...
Media Coverage.

Bangor Daily News Activists Bury Sierra Club


Waldo County Citizen/Village Soup. 'Funeral' held in wake of Sears Island (Tina Shute photo/Village Soup)


WABI TV-5 Their story

Also May 23rd Maine Public Radio story (before the march) More to come.

GET INVOLVED NOW! Its now or never for Sears Island. We need your brains and brawn to succeed. HERE'S HOW:

Keep informed by checking the Penobscot Bay Blog & Fair Play For Sears Island
Contact either of the below people for more about this affair contact: Ron Huber or Harlan McLaughlin .
Ron Huber Executive Director Penobscot Bay Watch POB 1871 Rockland Maine 04841
e: coastwatch@gmail.com tel: 207-691-7485 web: http://www.penbay.org/
Harlan Mclaughlin, president, Fair Play for Sears Island,
Searsport, Maine tel 207-548-9962 pearlsb4swine1@verizon.net

May 23, 2008

Sears Island - funeral march coverage starts

Two of our most important state media have picked up on the story of citizens discontented with the Sears Island port consensus process agreement- the "Deal of Shame" holding a funeral march on the island. Maine Things Considered ran the story Friday evening, and Maine Coast Now! the Courier newspapers of the bay counties and Augusta is running the story in its Saturday editions - available now on line. Thank you! to both media outfits for taking on an important story. See you on the causeway...

May 21, 2008

Sears Island - the Deal of Shame. Word by word.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Sierra Club, Friends of Sears Island and others can clamber out of the JUPC wallow they presently find themselves mired in. Can back away today. All they need do is repudiate this deal between Maine DOT and Maine Coast Heritage Trust , that would divide Sears Island into a cargo port zone and a conservation easemented "buffer" zone. All twenty two pages of the most recent draft in an easy to read gallery format.

Remember: until the fat legislator sings in late December, it is not a done deal. The island is today as wild as it was yesterday, and if fishermen and conservationists truly press their case now, it will remain so. Only a planned deal. A proposed deal.

While Maine Coast Heritage Trust will clearly not withdraw from the deal on its own initiative, Sierra Club, Friends of Sears Island and others can. The climb out of the charmed JUPC circle will not be easy. But once whomever loses face by quitting JUPC have eaten their corvus-burgers and been properly mollified, these ENGOs can rise once more into their powerful role as guardians of Gaia. They can turn their considerable talents and resource instead s to setting up a truly baywide transportation management plan that evaluates the effects of changes in shipping, roads and rail, in light of the potential environmental and cultural impacts to human and natural users of Penobscot Bay. That is what is needed.

This joint use plan, the bastard child of an unnatural and secretive union between nature stewards and nature removers, should be shelved. Along with the absurd listing of MDOT on the Island's land title, down at the Waldo County Courthouse. The island is listed as owned by the state of Maine with a parenthetical add-on clause that claims exclusive administration of the island by Maine DOT. In December lets ask the legislature to remove the Maine DOT barnacle from the island's title. Giving jurisdiction as is proper to our state's Bureau of Public Land.

Let the baywide public - the affected public - in on the planning for Sears Island. Let's shelve the needlessly vague, hopelessly deficient product of the Joint Use Planning Committee and its Consensus Process.

Its time to give democracy a try.

May 20, 2008

Sierra Club's path to salvation on Sears Island

What would John Muir do?

If it is to regain credibility as defender of natural Maine, Sierra Club must stand away from the little charmed circle of JUPC. Must organize and host public meetings about the port plan around the bay. To hear from sailors , fishermen and others what they think about planning a new industrial port at the head of their bay. Not later, at the permit-fighting stage with lawyers for all sides running amuck, but now. Before the island rezoning plan is approved by the legislature.

That's what John Muir would do. Bring it to the people.

Look at the case of Plum Creek and its Moosehead plan. LURC is running a highly transparent zoning process, heavy on public involvement, with hearings, exhibits, testimony. Cross-examination. All on a rezoning plan. Like MDOT's for Sears Island.

So why does Sierra Club find MDOT's small group consensus process acceptable? It is undemocratic and exclusive, not inclusive. Beyond Stockton Springs and Searsport, a dozen other Penobscot Bay towns will be affected by the operation of a container port at the head of Penobscot Bay. (Four more towns if vessels use the eastern passage up and downbay, rather than the western.) Have these towns' people been apprized of the port planning process?
Been consulted? NO.

Worst of all MDOT's consensus players have actively sought to evade opportunities for environmental review of their rezoning plan by the public and the agencies with a claim tp managing some natural resource on Sears Island, rather than welcome them as adding to the Committee's understanding of the island.

The disinclination of Conservation Law Foundation and by Natural Resources Council of Maine, two giants of Maine Conservation, to join in Maine DOTs consensus process for Sears Island should be telling Sierra Club something.

Maine Sierra Club's Conservation chair Ken Cline needs to get beyond hurling ad hominem thunderbolts at critics of his group's actions within the JUPC consensus process. Broaden that consensus circle, Ken. Encompass all of Penobscot Bay in the picture before the decision goes before the legislature this December.

To paraphrase John Donne:

No island is an island, entire of itself; every island is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

May 16, 2008

Sears Island Port? What are we thinking? - editorial

Excerpted from the editorial: Ripping up rails a waste
by Jeff Orchard
"The state of Maine has invested millions in developing a shipping terminal in Eastport, and the only access to it by land is over a single two-lane road, which sits right beside a rail bed that was ripped up years ago. Imagine the increase in products that could be shipped from Eastport if sufficient quantities of goods could be economically transported to the ocean terminal. Instead, the state wants to invest millions more in opening a new cargo terminal at Sears Island. What the heck are we thinking?"

Community lobster meeting May 20th Rockland City Hall

Maine DMR will host a community lobster meeting at 6pm May 20th at Rockland City Hall Council Chambers.

Find out what the hot topics are for our bay's important lobster industry. This will be an open discussion about all facets of lobstering: whale rules, artificial and natural bait, lobster health, fuel costs, number of traps in the water etc. Tell DMR how it is. Open to all. More info

May 15, 2008

Sears Island: Why EPA said NO to a port back in the 90s

And why NO is still the right answer. Nothing has changed since then...

On September 29, 1995, John Devillars of US EPA New England wrote to the Federal Highway Administration and to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers about the proposed Sears Island cargo port. Below is the introduction, then the "environmental impacts" section of his letter. (Full letter.)

Dear Mr. Lariviere and Colonel Bradbury:

I am pleased to provide the Environmental Protection Agency's comments on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Maine Department of Transportation's proposal to construct a marine dry cargo terminal on Sears Island in Penobscot Bay. Our comments are in accordance with our responsibilities under three federal environmental laws -- the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act.

Introduction

The Maine Department of Transportation seeks to build a modern, expandable marine cargo terminal on Sears Island, located at Searsport, Maine in Penobscot Bay. For over a decade, Maine has identified this project as one of great importance to the long term economic vitality of the State. At the same time, there are extremely valuable environmental resources at stake. Because of the severity of the environmental harm it would cause, as discussed below, the project as currently proposed cannot receive a Clean Water Act § 404 permit unless it is modified to reduce the impacts through further avoidance and/or development of a mitigation package which would sufficiently compensate for these impacts.

The challenge that lies ahead is to identify practicable ways to further avoid and compensate for the environmental losses so that Maine Department of Transportation can proceed to construct a cargo terminal in mid-coast Maine in an environmentally acceptable manner.

Environmental Impacts

"In evaluating the adverse impacts of this project, I have carefully reviewed the record before me including extensive analysis conducted by EPA marine and wetland biologists, the professional
staff of both the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, and numerous informed commenters who have reviewed the DSEIS. Based on that review, I conclude that the impacts on eelgrass, intertidal and subtidal habitat, clamflats, forested wetlands, vernal pools, and streams associated with the Sears Island cargo facility, as currently proposed, are environmentally objectionable, and would cause significant degradation to the aquatic environment.

"This judgment is unequivocally endorsed by both the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"A. Sears Island Alternatives
"The substantial impacts to both marine and freshwater habitats associated with the twelve Sears Island alternatives portrayed in the DSEIS would cause significant degradation to waters of the United States in violation of Section 230.10(c) of the 404(b)(1) guidelines and may result in substantial and unacceptable adverse impacts to aquatic resources of national importance.

The most environmentally damaging impacts associated with the twelve alternatives identified for analysis by MDOT are:

"* Permanent loss of a minimum of 13 acres of highly productive eelgrass beds, and the reduced productivity of up to an additional 80 to 250 acres of eelgrass. Eelgrass loss of this magnitude is unprecedented in New England. To our knowledge, no projects have ever been permitted that have approached this amount of destruction and degradation to submerged aquatic vegetation.

"* Permanent destruction of roughly 16 acres of intertidal habitat. These areas provide habitat for commercially and recreationally important species, including soft-shell clams, mussels, Atlantic salmon, menhaden, winter flounder, and other finfish species. The environmental values of this marine habitat has been recognized by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Moreover, the State of Maine has classified this area as habitat of regional significance to coastal wildlife, and MDOT's own consultant has documented the extremely high productivity of these marine habitats.

"* Fill or pilings placed in a minimum of 12 acres of subtidal habitat. These subtidal areas provide habitat for lobsters, crabs, sea urchins, numerous finfish species, and grey and harbor seals. An additional 34 to 46 acres of subtidal area would be dredged, resulting in a loss of foraging habitat and food resources for lobsters, crabs, sea urchins, grey and harbor seals, menhaden, Atlantic silversides, and other migratory finfish.

"* Outright destruction and total loss of functions of at least 17 acres of freshwater wetlands, up to four vernal pools and almost two-thirds of a mile of stream. Extensive indirect effects would render many of the adjacent wetlands on Sears Island less suitable or uninhabitable by wildlife. These direct and indirect effects would irreparably alter the integrity of this high quality, undisturbed ecosystem. If permitted as proposed, the impacts to freshwater wetlands and waters would be one of the most damaging to wildlife habitat in Maine in the past decade.

"In addition, the proximity of extremely valuable freshwater wetlands, vernal pools, mudflats, saltmarshes, eelgrass beds, and intertidal areas found on Sears Island is unusual. The juxtaposition of these valuable habitats results in a high biodiversity of wildlife species utilizing the island: more than three quarters of all wetland 'dependent mammal species and wetland dependent bird species occurring in this region of Maine have been verified on Sears Island. Construction of the project as proposed would result in substantial loss of ecological diversity, productivity, and stability for these species, and would adversely affect habitat for numerous species considered imperiled by the State, including the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon.

"EPA believes that the marine impacts are by themselves significant. The Sears Island marine habitats are exceptionally diverse, productive, and valuable to the fisheries resources of both Penobscot Bay and Penobscot River. As noted above, EPA is unaware of any other projects in New England with marine impacts as severe as the Sears Island proposal. The freshwater impacts, while not unprecedented, are unusually severe. No project in our experience would cause the combined harm to valuable marine and freshwater resources that would result from the Sears Island project as currently proposed.

"Given this, the project should not be permitted on Sears Island unless it is modified to reduce these impacts through further avoidance and/or development of a practicable mitigation package which would sufficiently compensate for these impacts."

End of excerpt

May 14, 2008

Georges Bank's Plankton Bloom failed last fall, NOAA says.

No Fall '07 Bloom Could Mean Fewer Haddock

Satellites in space and Research buoys in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank continuously monitor the rise and fall of the regions' plankton blooms, the essential food and waste processors for the larval fishes and invertebrates that hatch in these waters.

Last fall, however, the plankton bloom failed to develop on Georges Bank.

The table was bare, at one of the region’s most productive marine habitats.

NOAA thinks its going to reduce the amount of haddock in the area a couple years from now, according to its
spring 2008 ecosystem advisory for the northeast U.S. Continental Shelf.

NOAA also found its long term trends (1854-2007) in SST show that the NE Shelf Ecosystem is warming, especially in the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank and Southern New England subregions.

The advisories are issued twice yearly, in the spring and fall, by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Office of Marine Ecosystem Studies (OMES). The Spring 2008 Ecosystem Advisory reports conditions from the fall of 2007.

May 6, 2008

Penobscot Bay lobsterboats, yachts, now under Homeland Security surveillance

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recently announced a new Small Vessel Security Strategy

It may soon be implemented in Belfast. What about Rockland? (See photo) Stonington? Vinalhaven?

The Homelander's press release states that small vessels ( those under 300 tons, like lobster boats, sailboats and yachts)

"... are readily vulnerable to potential exploitation by terrorist, smugglers of weapons of mass destruction, narcotics, aliens, and other contraband, and other criminals."

Citing the hapless USS Cole, the Homies warn:
"Small vessels have also been successfully employed overseas by terrorists to deliver Waterborne Improvised Explosive Devices." (WIEDs) pronounced "weeds"

Specifically: "commercial fishing vessels, recreational boats and yachts, towing vessels, uninspected passenger vessels, or any other small commercial vessels involved in foreign or U.S. voyages" fall under the new surveillance program according to the agency.

May 5, 2008

Sears Island - Highway Administration considers breaching causeway

One of the many interesting documents from a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Highway Administration is an email from Kevin Moody FHWA Environmental Specialist, to Mark Hasselmann, FHWA's Right of Way and Environment Program Manager, Brian Smith, FHWA Environmental Biology/Water Quality Specialist, Brian Yanchik, FHWA NEPA specialist, and Paul Garrett, FHWA Wetland Assessment specialist. And the response by boss Hasselman.

>-----------------------------------------
>From: Moody, Kevin
>Sent: Thursday, March 06, 2008 1:42 PM
> To: Hasselmann, Mark, Smith, Brian; Yanchik, Brian; Garrett, Paul
>Subject: RE: Sears Island Planning
>
>My recommendation is that ME DOT remove the causeway and dedicate the mainland >shoreline to preservation. Go for the momma of all credits with no future liabilities.
>
>-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>
>From: Hasselmann, Mark

>Sent: Thursday, March 06, 2008 2:02 PM
>To: Moody, Kevin

>Great idea. exactly what this latest group started with - the no build.

>----------------------------------------------------------------------------


May 4, 2008

Trawl survey coming to bay, May 19-23rd.

Lobstermen take note:
The Maine trawl survey will be steaming into Penobscot Bay May 19th for 5 days of towing. Click on dates for charts of planned trawl locations (large gif files)


May 19th – E of Monhegan to Metinic
May 20th – Rockland to Upper Penobscot Bay
May 21st – E of Monhegan to 11 Mile Ridge
May 22nd – E of Matinicus Rock to Seal Is.
May 23rd – Cape Rosier and E Penobscot Bay
All dates are tentative; storms or other issues may cause delays.

During those dates, you may contact the boat crew on either channel 16 or 13. The crew cell phone is 207-557-5276.

There's a lot of concern over the impacts of the trawl survey on lobsters, especially during shedder season.The state's own stats show that up to 12 percent of lobsters caught in a trawl are fatally injured by the capture method. A similar percent lose at least one claw or leg.

The above does not include any crushed by the trawl doors or delimbed by the groundwire, as they remain on the bottom.

A few years ago lobstermen in the waters off Corea drove the fall trawl survey away

Sea kayaker licensing on the horizon

A national association of state "boating law administrators" - including Maine Marine Patrol Major John Fetterman - is calling for laws making boater safety courses mandatory for owners of sea kayaks. Reason: increase in fatal accidents. What one media blogger thinks

Major John Fetterman, of Maine Marine Patrol told USA today: "Paddling represents our greatest risk in the recreational boating community".
He supports legislation to require kayakers to take courses that teach them the basics of water safety.

Twenty-seven people died kayaking in 2006, the most recent year for which numbers are available, USA Today says.

(It is unknown if any fatalities were marine mammal related, but a don't feed the walruses" regulation looks smart.)

May 2, 2008

Penobscot Bay history: chicken pollution in 1967

In 1967, the chicken industry was thriving in Waldo County. Unfortunately the way that the big chicken processing plant in Belfast at the time, Penobscot Poultry, Inc, dealt with the gurry and feathers from up to 200,000 birds a day that was their plants' waste products, was to dump it into the bay.

Read an impassioned statement by lobsterman/ scalloper/seafood dealer Frederick P. Young about the effect of that pollution on his livelihood. He was speaking on April 20, 1967, at a public hearing called by the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration at the Belfast High School to examine this chicken plant pollution issue.

It is people like Young who stand up for their natural resources that make a difference

Photo: Cedric N. Chatterley