Jun 28, 2006

DMR politicizes aquaculture decision

Maine Department of Marine Resources' aquaculture administrator is
throwing roadblocks in the way of a Rockland aquaculture proposal apparently in order to benefit a developer with personal ties to Governor Baldacci that is seeking to build a pier in a nearby location. At the same
time, Maine Department of Environmental Protection is poised to reject
the developer's pier proposal, due to its impact to the area's marine

Rockland resident Neal Parker filed an application with DMR on January
12th of this year for an experimental lease to grow sponges, eelgrass
and coralline algae in a two acre site near the Rockland Breakwater.
The species would be bottom-cultured with no cages, lines or pens.
Lobstering and recreational fishing would be permitted to continue
within the lease area.

While the proposal has met with acceptance by the residents and lobster
fishers of the area, DMR has done everything possible to slow down decision
making on Parker's application, apparently to benefit efforts by a
politically connected developer to build a pier in the same area. The
developer, Samorock LLC, is represented before state agencies by
Robert Baldacci, Governor John Baldacci's brother. Samorock owns
the Samoset resort.

DMR aquaculture administrator Mary Costigan has tried a variety of
tactics to delay decisionmaking on Parker's proposal. According to
documents released pursuant to a Freedom of Access Law request , Costigan
sought a scoping session on the proposal before receiving ANY comments
on the proposal. The scoping session was ultimately not held,
following objections by another DMR official.

Costigan then ordered a public hearing on the proposal, despite a lack
of public interest during the March comment period in doing so. Public
hearings are not required on experimental aquaculture leases unless
five or more individuals request one. Only three requests were
received. The would-be pier developer Samorock LLC did not request a
public hearing.

Moreover, while the agency typically holds public hearings on
experimental aquaculture proposals a few weeks after the close of the
comment period, Costigan has set the date for Parker's hearing for
late August, effectively preventing him from beginning work on his
lease site until next year.

By contrast, DMR received a mussel farm proposal in May and
will hold the public hearing in July, according to the mussel farm
applicant's father, Erick Swanson.

Remarkably, while Maine DMR's aquaculture administrator has been
bending over backwards to favor developer Samorock over its own
aquaculture applicant, officials at Maine Department of Environmental
Protection are poised to reject Samorock's pier proposal due to its
adverse effects on juvenile lobster habitat, the harbor lobster
fishery, shorebird nesting habitat and the aesthetics of the
breakwater area, according to DEP official Jim Cassida, who is
handling the application for that agency.

Cassida will be meeting with representatives of Samorock today to give
them an opportunity to withdraw their pier plan before the agency
rejects it.

Maine DEP proposed rejecting a similar Samorock proposal in 2001. The company withdrew its proposal at that time.