Nov 29, 2008

Jilted Port Huggers Lament Oversight 'Poison Pill'

Several of the creators of the foundered JUPC plan for partitioning Sears Island fired back at their critics and at the Maine legislature    today with a co-signed op-ed in the weekend Bangor Daily News
Do the trio admit to having made mistakes? Of course not. Do they fault their decision to exempt their Plan from impact review under the federal highway administration's own environmental law, even though it was appropriate?  Not a bit. Do they renounce their bizarre decision to acquiesce with MDOT's demands they sacrifice hundreds more acres of the island's forests and streams than would logically be needed for a port? Nope.
From the 30 acres the state previously found an acceptable acreage for a port, did they  give up without a whimper 270 acres more of the island's forested, stream cut western shore.Ayuh.- and by definition the thousand acres of nursery shoals  in front of those 300 acres that would have to be dredged and filled? Suppose so. They never thought about that
Do they regret bypassing environmental review of their giant vague plan purely for the sake of shortening the process?  Not a bit. Like mindless robots, they were "charged by the governor" to ignore the environmental consequences  of their plan for the upper bay's brackish estuary, which a port would sit in the amidst of.  
But the rest of us know better . Stand tall, Legislature
Strip MDOT from Sears Island's title and deed. Place it under the state's Public Reserved Land status, with attendant payment-in-lieu-of-taxes to Searsport. Not under the privatizing thrall of  overgrown,  privately-held Maine Coast Heritage Trust and its hangers-on. Should a port become a necessity, the need so great it justifies biting a chunk out of the island and fish nursery shoal, why, public reserved land is legally open to such compromises. But a port isn't a necessity. as the three essayists note.  Not for the foreseeable future.  Read their essay (below or  the online version,) and weep.
They just don't get it.

Sears Island decision a missed opportunity for Maine.

On Tuesday, Nov. 18, the Joint Committee on Transportation of the Maine Legislature made a deeply flawed decision concerning the future of Sears Island. Unless corrected by future action, their vote on the recommendations presented to the committee by the Sears Island Joint Use Planning Committee continues indefinitely the 40-year stalemate concerning the island’s opportunities for both economic development and conservation.

The transportation committee accepted every recommendation of the JUPC, but added a contingency that poisons the potential of real progress for many years, perhaps indefinitely. The JUPC’s key recommendation is to dedicate 330 acres of the island for potential use as a marine port and 601 acres for outdoor recreation, environmental education and ecological protection.

These recommendations were developed through an intensive, 3-year planning process by more than 50 different representatives of transportation, industry, conservation, outdoor recreation, local business, state agencies and town governments. This complete spectrum of interests achieved a consensus to reach beyond gridlock and produce the first comprehensive resolution of this long-contested issue.

The poison pill that the transportation committee inserted into its decision is the contingency that before the conservation land can be established, a port proposed for the island must receive all permits. This decision was neither fair to the people of Maine nor prudent for the future of the island, as demonstrated by these facts:

The 330 acres for potential port use was delineated by DOT staff and is more than three times the area required for development of a container port.

Finding a private entity to fund and partner with the state to develop a port, design facilities, conduct studies, and proceed through regulatory review will take an unknown number years.

During the past 40 years, six major developments, including one port, have been proposed for Sears Island. Not one has ever received the permits necessary for completion.

Any permitting process for a port on the island must consider alternative sites. Improvement and-or expansion of the existing port at Mack Point might be sufficient to serve the need, further delaying satisfaction of the committee’s contingency for a permit for an island port.

A 2006 economic analysis of the conservation program as proposed for Sears Island determined that the conservation land — including a small visitor, education and maintenance center, multiuse trails and related public access facilities — would attract a projected 23,000 visitors each year who would inject $1.7 million into the economy of the region annually.

Why not commit the 601 acres to conservation now, and allow at least that portion of the island to become a performing asset for the people of Maine? Extensive research by the JUPC determined that this will not conflict with future proposals to use the 330 acres for a port.

In the meantime, the island continues to drain resources from the town of Searsport. It receives no tax revenue from the island due to state ownership, but has to provide police patrols, emergency response, trash removal and other services. Further, because there is no management of the current public use except for concrete barriers and a gate across the entrance road, ecological values of the island are being degraded.

The stalemate perpetuated by the transportation committee’s narrow decision should be corrected through action by the full Legislature, in recognition that the people of Maine have a broad set of interests in Sears Island. The balance of uses proposed by all parties through the JUPC’s recommendations encompass this breadth. The transportation committee’s decision does not.

It is time for the entire Legislature to consider the future of Sears Island, the value of the recently thwarted JUPC’s proposed compromise, and vote to take responsibility for stewardship of this important state asset.

Written by James Gillway, Dianne Smith and Scott Dickerson

James Gillway is Searsport’s town manager; Dianne Smith is co-chairwoman of the Joint Use Planning Committee; Scott Dickerson is executive director of Coastal Mountains Land Trust. All three served on the committee that crafted the compromise plan

Nov 24, 2008

Sears Island - The empire retreats.

Another happy event has transpired since the Legislature's Joint Transportation Committee adopted the Savage Plan, which withholds approval of Maine Coast Heritage Trust's easement over 2/3 of the island, and establishment of an educational center, until a port and railyard is fully permitted on the remaining third.

Senator Christine Savage's motion, adopted by the committee: "I move the compromise agreement, including the conservation easement reached by the Sears Island Joint Use Planning Committee, be accepted in principle, but left unsigned by this committee until a port is permitted on Sears Island. The Transportation Committee will submit a bill to the 124th Legislature, directing the Maine Department of Transportation to move forward with all practical speed to see that a port is permitted on Sears Island. Once that permit is in hand, the agreement before this committee will be signed."

In a pleasing example of interagency coordination, Maine DOT has withdrawn its umbrella mitigation bank prospectus from the Army Corps of Engineers' clutches, and Army Corps has obligingly called off its Dec. 1st public meeting on said prospectus at its armory in Searsport.

The plot between government industry and suborned eco-yuppies to partition Sears Island among themselves continues to crumble. But there are other players out there...It's time to look into what the Federal Highway Administration is doing. Does the Savage Plan void the JUPC decision to forego a federal review under 49 § 303. Policy on lands, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and historic sites? 

That review would have to look at the likely impacts of a port to protected and managed natural, historical and recreational resources. This would have to be BEFORE any action could be taken by the legislature, as its results would inform their decision on whether a commercial port is a good idea.

Nov 22, 2008

Sears Island: Governor says port plan "inoperable".

The intrigue continues...Maine's governor and legislature slide helplessly into civil war over  integrity of environmentalists on the Joint Use Committee, who suddenly seem unwilling to honor their committment to "appropriate" port development on Sears Island

Which branch of Maine government has the final decision over the island splitting proposal?  The Governor, says Baldacci's office. JUPC is my creature. I trust the greenies.  But wait.....'We don't trust  'em, says the Legislature's Transportation Committee co-chair Senator Dennis Damon. No green payoff until AFTER a port is fully approved.   

Speaking in indignant response to the legislators, three land trust executives cry out Hold on there! This is a done deal! Give us our pound of island flesh first! Trust the Trusts!

Maine's conservative blogosphere  warns of a: "Baldacci Ready to Roll Over for Enviros on Sears Island Port"  What type of roll? "Baldacci wants to sign off on the easement and leave the port deal to the whims of enviro lawsuits."

(Indeed, legal knives can be heard sharpening, as both shade-tree enviromental advocates and Big Green Law Firms  gear up in anticipation of exploiting this target-rich environment. The many litigation-worthy and appeal worthy legal blunders that MDOT and its Committee of Fifty have committed, but tried to brush aside, in the course of their three year drive to get  Sears Island divided, are now ripe for litigation.) 

Who is correct in this struggle over the people's public property?  Read the below article and be amazed:

Action on Sears Island sought

Baldacci questions committee’s delay  
  By George Chappell BDN Staff  11/22/08

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci remains committed to a “positive and productive future for Sears Island,” his office said Thursday.

The governor expressed his disappointment with a unanimous decision by the Legislature’s Transportation Committee on Tuesday to leave temporarily unsigned a negotiated agreement that balanced industrial and environmental concerns over the island’s use.

“The governor believes that the Joint Use Planning Committee's Final Report struck an important balance and is disappointed that the Transportation Committee decision effectively undermined the agreement, rendering it inoperable,” said Joy Leach, deputy director of communications for the Governor's Office.

Complete article here

Nov 18, 2008

Sears Island Smackdown! Wild island saved from partition....But Baldacci may try an end run around the legislature: updates soon...

Jaws dropped, incredulous grins spread among island-huggers today as the state/eco-Yuppie plot to divvy Sears Island up into container port and conservation zones fell apart.

Listen to a 4 and a half minute mp3 of the legislature's Transportation Committe on November 18th deciding they didn't trust  the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Maine Sierra Club, the Friends of Sears Island and other compromisers  ( 4 minute mp3)

Why? Those conservation groups had  earlier signed a deal with Governor John Baldacci divvying up Sears Island, with 2/3 donated in perpetual easement to Maine Coast Heritage Trust  and one third made available to potential container port builders.   Complete recordings of  meeting here

Under the deal, the land trust and environmental groups would be given a conservation easement and permission to build and operate an environmental center. In return they would not oppose development of a port on the west side of Sears Island.

However, the Greenies were under the impression that they would get their conservation easement immediately, with the state to take applications for port proposals at some later date.

Not so.

Thanks to a last minute surprise proposal submitted by state senator Christine Savage, and seconded by Rockland Representative Ed Mazurek,  the legislators voted to "accept in principle" the final report of the Sears Island Joint Use Committee, but  will not authorize any  conservation easement on Sears Island UNTIL a container port development on the island has first been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.

No land trust conservation easement,  no Sierra Club educational center. No Friends of Sears Island's trail maintenance contract....none of those until industrial port developers begin tearing away at the forests,  streams, fern meadows,  marshy streams, saltwater fish nurseries and other natural habitats of the western side of Sears Island.

Once a ballast water belching, smog-producing  mega container port is actually under construction on Sears Island, MCHT, FOSI and Sierra Club will get their pound of  bleeding island flesh. 

Say it ain't so, Joan, Jimmy, Scott!

The joint committee on transportation  arrived at its decision after about an hour of presentations and spirited discussions.

Jim Freeman of the Friends of Sears Island, Joan Saxe of the Sierra Club and Steve Miller of the Islesboro Island Land Trust signed the "consensus agreement on Sears Island". As signatories, they will have to actively fight the many fishermen, health advocates and other environmentalists who oppose the container port hell-plan for upper Penobscot Bay. 

As this is an impossible situation for the Sierra Club, the Deal is Dead.

Why? Because it's one thing for the Sierra Club et al to be compromising sell-outs. Its another for them to actually join the enemy's ranks, as Sierra Club leaders Joan Saxe and Ken Cline, and NFN/EF! activist leader Jim Freeman are starting to understand.

Expressions of horror filled the faces of those eco-compromiser wannabes, as well as the railroad  interests, MDOT and the town reps  as they wandered out to the state capital's parking lot in bewildered knots.

Patsies. Sold out just as heartlessly as they had sold out mother nature. Now the rats begin jumping ship. As the Portland Press Herald just wrote:

"Jim Freeman, a member of the group that crafted the agreement, says the committee's action in effect voids the deal and sends the issue back to limbo."

"The Quislings are running for the hills! " chuckled long term opponent of the Joint Use Plan Ron Huber of Penobscot Bay Watch. "Run Jimmy! Run! Get on the Islesboro Ferry, Steve! Hide yourself Joan and Ken! 

For now you must fight against the fishermen, seagrass huggers and the greater conservation community and  fight for the industrial free trade container port wannabes, if you are to gain your precious educational center and perpetual easement.   How will you ENGOs explain this to your funders and your members?  "We have to destroy Sears Island to save it"?

That won't fly. There are already voices calling for the now fully discredited leaders-for-life of the Maine Sierra Club to step down and let a  younger less jaded generation of Sierrans take the helm

Awaken, eco-signers to the Governor's charge! Renounce JUPC! Repent! Rejoin the never ending defense of the natural Maine coast against industrial  encroachment.

Nov 12, 2008

Sears Island - JUPC bails out, legislators to vote 11/18/08

Having finished their dirty business, the Sears Island Joint Use Planning Committee has cancelled its final public meeting . One which would have given the public an opportunity to quiz the committee on the many inaccuracies and humbug in JUPC's final report As well as the myriad exceptions and vague wordings that fill the final version of the final version of the conservation easement

Of course such a meeting might have been a waste of time. Most JUPC-ites are talkative as stones at these events, and simply decline to answer the public, no matter what the question. "I'd be ashamed, too" one observer sniffed.

Onward! We must convince the Legislature's Transportation Committee to vote this bay-killing plan down. Please call them and email them. Or just send your email to Kathie Bilodeau, the transportation committee's very capable clerk, and ask her to forward it to the committee members.

Nov 4, 2008

Penobscot Bay fish habitat -what sprawl, pollution and dredging does to it

A report quite relevant to the Sears Island Question came out earlier this year - feds and scientists finally taking a long hard look at the effects in New England waters that pollution, development, dams, ballast water discharge, dredging and the whole wretched mess of nonfishing impacts does to the homes and working places of our wild fishes.

The report: Impacts to Marine Fisheries Habitat from Nonfishing Activities in the Northeastern United States, comes in a handy each-chapter-a-seperate-pdf-file format that lets you browse through it easily: (you'll have to click on the above link to read them)

Chapters 2, 4, 5, 6 and 10 are helpful in understanding what harm a port on Sears Island could do. Read 'em!

Chapter One: Technical Workshop on Impacts to Coastal Fisheries Habitat from Nonfishing Activities
Chapter Two: Coastal Development
Chapter Three: Energy-related Activities
Chapter Four: Alteration of Freshwater Systems
Chapter Five: Marine Transportation
Chapter Six: Offshore Dredging and Disposal Activities
Chapter Seven: Chemical Effects—Water Discharge Facilities
Chapter Eight: Physical Effects—Water Intake and Discharge Facilities
Chapter Nine: Agricultures and Silviculture
Chapter Ten: Introduced/Nuisance Species and Aquaculture
Chapter Eleven: Global Effects and Other Impacts
Chapter Twelve: Compensatory Mitigation

Conclusions and Recommendations