Jul 26, 2007

GOM Right Whale Protection Stymied by Bush Admin

July 24, 2007. The White House is currently delaying enactment of a final rule intended to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

What's going on here? According to NOAA, the chief cause of accidental deaths of North Atlantic right whales is "ship strikes" i.e. being run over by oil tankers and other big vessels while drowsing away on the surface. Not lobster pot-warp entanglements, not fishing of any kind. The US and Canadian fishing fleets already have a brace of strictures on their operations to protect our cetacean relatives sharing the Gulf of Maine.

But big global trade vessels have big money, big lawfirms and big lobbyists to keep themselves as free of profit-threatening regulations as possible. These are the chief culprits. A little known administration bureaucracy, the "White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs" (OIRA) is holding things up. Under Executive Order 12866, issues by Clinton, all federal agencies have to run their new regulations past OIRA before it can go on the books and be enforced. OIRA looks at the regulation's costs and benefits. It is supposed to make its decisions swiftly
But in this case....Not! Read the details here as assembled by public interest watchdog group OMB Watch

Jul 21, 2007

Seal Island: ACOE, USFWS and other stakers recommend "Remedial Investigation & Feasibility Study

The latest communication from Army Corps of Engineers is promising:

"An RI/FS was recommended at this site due to past discovery of MEC and the MC risk associated with the COPECS"

Huh? Translated into plainer English below, but first the news:
the Seal Island Site Inspection Report has been finalized "with concurrence of all stakeholders and regulators who participated with us in the process."

Okay. So what did they decide? In plainer English:
"A Remedial Investigation & Feasibility Study was recommended at this site due to past discovery of munitions and explosives of concern and the munitions constituents risk associated with chemicals of potential ecological concern" (see acronyms list, coming soon)

This is bad and good news:
Bad News: An initial quick& dirty onceover of the bombing range has revealed enough UXO to warrant developing a remediation plan. So yes, this outer Penobscot Bay gunnery range of an island is indeed contaminated.

The MK 15: most common UXO at Seal Island

Good news: The agencies and stakeholders have concurred that a plan should now be drawn up; a detailed plan for seeking out and removing or neutralizing UXO or MEC therefrom this former bombing range, which is identified on nautical charts as federal Danger Area 334.10.

The scuttle at a recent brownbagger in Army Corps of Engineers in Baltimore is that Army and DoD were talking last year about extending the scope of the area of concern to the waters the ranges out to the 125 contour (safe diving depth) eligible for cleanup; instead of the area within 100 yards of shore, (the present accepted limit.) This will be followed up on...

Now the heat is on the conservation/environmental community to act on behalf of Marine Maine down there, i.e. ensure the dangerous polluting munitions on the seafloor off Seal Island, steadily leaking into state waters and also washing ashore on nearby islands as the Gulf of Maine's currents tumble the underwater cache of UXO about is looked at, and appropriate remediation taken.

What's needed: Regional NGOs must step up to the plate.

Penobscot Bay is well-freighted with conservation and environmental non government organizations of all stripes. Commercial fisherfolk groups, coastal and island land trusts, regional environmental outfits. A shifting mosaic of grassroots groups in Maine coastal towns and cities rising and falling as they take on their particular NIMBY Nightmares.

It is historically been dififcult to impossible to draw Natural Resources Council of Maine down below the low tide line; those vast natural areas that make up Maine's state territorial sea must do without Brownie Carson's bands of merry men and women that fight the green fight so well on Maine's land and in Maine's freshwater rivers and lakes. Lukewarm interest so far. from Toxics Action Center.

So far. Time will tell. Get updated Seal Island info

Jul 11, 2007

Sears Island Joint Use Committee takes first steps. updated

Sears Island's Joint Use Planning Committee met July 11th.

See media coverage. The purpose of the two hour meeting, according to the agenda sent out by email, was to introduce JUPC members to each other, agree on ground rules for future JUPC meetings, and examine a draft “Scope of Work” paper from Maine DOT. The meeting was held at the Searsport town office from 10 am to noon.

According to a reliable source at the meeting, it went as follows:

Searsport town official Dianne Smith opened the meeting, praising the the attendees for their perserverance. “We've come farther than I ever thought we'd get,” she said.

Maine DOT commissioner David Cole spoke up “we're making history” he said. He said the Sears Island Committee was “one of the best I've ever worked with.”

James Gillway, Searsport town mgr, said that people have spoken to him and want the question settled.

Sierra Club representative Joan Saxe's cell phone loudly went off, annoyingly going through 8 or 9 rings before she could dig it out of her bag.

Senator Damon spoke up, noting that he had entered into the process late, but said he'd written to Governor Baldacci recently, praising “the tremendous amount of work” regarding “a tremendous asset and a tremendous natural resource.” He said he believed the two could be combined. “Every bit of our natural resources is important, and a port too.” he said.

The meeting participants ( see list below) agreed to adopt the groundrules of their predecessor group Sears Island Planning Initiative Steering Committee.

Then Duane Scott of Maine Department of Transportation presented his “Scope of Work” proposal. Calling it “a foundation” to work from he identified the following work priorities

(1) finalizing the buffer easement language
(2) fixing boundaries between the industrial zone and the natural zone
(3) Creating a new legal “Easement Deed”
(4) Deciding on Public Access Issues
(5) Develop a plan to provide revenue for the island for Searsport
(6) Mitigation options

Discussion followed.
Robert Grindrod,representing Montreal Maine railroad (formerly called Bangor and Aroostook Railroad) said setting out and fixing the boundaries must be done first. “
Grindrod says fix boundaries first. “Can't do anything without that.” he said.

DOT Commissioner Cole says with the 341 acres allocated to port usage “we have a core area to work with.”

Senator Damon said that the boundaries “shouldn't unduly constrain the permitting process”

Maine DOT's Duane Scott then talked about a state “mitigation bank”.
He said there were ten or eleven sites with “excess compensation credits”
Working with the feds as well ACOE, but he believed that the state could potentially have acquired
credit by agreeing not to develop the 600 acres of the island now to be kept free of industry.

Cole then read from a letter to the group from Aroostock County legislator and former paper industry official Rose Peletier, asking that SIJUPC members submit a thumbnail biography. “We can all learn from each other” Pelletier wrote.

Cole also noted that JUPC member Anne Crimaudo of Protect Sears Island is a former business executive who once helped save up trade agreements with China.

The question arose of committee transparency to the public.

“The DOT” Cole said, was being "as open as we can." Dianne Smith asked what do as a JUPC member if contacted by the media. Cole said “You speak for the committee.”

Bangor Daily News Journalist Tom Groening asked, “So who do I go to?”
Go to the state Sears Island website , Cole said. And to Duane Scott of Maine DOT.

Diane Smith wondered if sections of the meeting should be open to public participation?

Sandy Blitz said this sort of meeting should have a public session first then the meeting be limited to committee members for the rest of the meeting.

Grindrod expressed concern that if the public is let into the process “We'll be starting over.” he said. It would be “extremely unwise.”

Jul 6, 2007

Maine Fisheries & Community Based Resource Management : Can ecologically sensitive foxes really guard the marine henhouse?

Maine's mainstream marine conservation organizations have teamed up with several commercial fishing organizations to garner themselves collectively more than two million dollars to promote out what could be either an ecological and sociological triumph or a disaster.

The plan would put decisionmaking about exploitation of the NW Gulf of Maine's cod, haddock, pollock and other groundfish largely into the hands of committees made up of fishermen from Maine coastal communities.

Called Community Based Resource Management, the concept has its supporters and detractors.

But look what these folks below were just given to promote this:

Island Institute $396,328 Purpose
Penobscot East Resource Center $563,000 Purpose
The Ocean Conservancy $769,000 Purpose
Gulf of Maine Research Institute $467,000

Will they earn their pay?
Island Institute failed in its effort "This grant will focus on gaining approval by the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) of an alternative to amend the Multispecies Fishery Management Plan."

Penobscot East's cash, too, fruitlessly sought "adoption of a plan by the New England Fishery Management Council for implementation of an area-based pilot project in the Downeast area of the Gulf of Maine"

For in June, the NEFMC said NO to the II's and PE's proposals. So there's $959,328.00 down the drain with nothing to show for it. Though one assumes some splendid private conferences at the finest of resorts, replete with catered chow, took place. Doubtless a few Individual Retirement Accounts got plumped up, and some handsome salaries paid out. But as far as CBFM goes, the New England Fishery Management won't even be looking at it before 2009, and no action could take place before 2012. It is safe to assume that the 2 million bucks will have petered out long before then, though the requisite coffee table book or two will have been published.

One thing is certain:
unless these insular groups opens up to the broader community, CBRM is doomed to be as much a waste of time and money as the recent Maine Bay Management Initiative and the Task Force on Maine Aquaculture

So what IS Community-Based Fisheries Management?

You could try the explanation by Penobscot East. But I don't think you'll come out of it much the wiser. (manage cod like clams? huh?) So here's my take at it:

It's the benign version of the fox-guarding-the-chick-coop scenario.

In this case, the concept is of having ecologically sensitive foxes (local groundfish committees) guard the chicken coops (marine fish habitats), with the farm owner (Uncle Sam) stopping in from time to time and making sure the inventory shrinkage (commercial fishing) is within reasonable bounds and is not damaging the chicken coop (habitat) or its feed troughs (prey species) and drinking tanks (water quality.)

The idea loosely parallels the lobster fishing zone council concept, which set up local decisionmaking bodies at regional and community levels along the Maine coast in the 1990s. The groundfish area management committees (AMCs) would be established in those same towns and cities. But this time, each holder of a groundfishing license will have to choose which Gulf of Maine fishing grounds they ply their trade in.

But there are as many differences as similarities between lobsterfishing and groundfishing, ecologically, technologically and economically. So the articles, lectures, reports, websites and other literature on Community-Based Fisheries Management that these groups listed above are presently offering up for public consumption are big on rationales and broad concepts, but vague on details.

Stay Tuned...

Jul 1, 2007

Sears Island: SIPISC to SIJUPC

Sears Island Planning Initiative Steering Committee has morphed into the Sears Island Joint Use Planning Committee. The new group will meet at Union Hall in Searsport Wednesday, July 11, from 9-noon. While the some of the stakeholders have changed, the stakes remain as high as ever!

Earlier posts about the Sears Island port approval process Click Here

Sears Island almost became an LNG port in 2004

SIPISC reached an agreement in April, subsequently approved by legislature and governor, to split the island into a 600 acre natural area and a 341 acre commercial port zone. The SIPISC-ians okayed building an education center and parking lot on the island in the "natural " portion. They also authorized the state to solicit container port companies to develop and operate the port zone.

The JUPC meeting is expected to spend time developing its internal decisionmaking processes and establishing the exact borders between the two zones. Will the port proponents submit a proposal from a port wannabe corporation.

Members of the Sears Island Joint Use Planning Committee are:
Sandy Blitz, ex dir East-West Highway Association
Sara Bradford, 1st selectman Stockton Springs
David Cole, Maine DOT Commissioner
Anne Crimaudo, Protect Sears Island
Scott Dickerson, MCHT
Jim Freeman, president Friends of Sears Island, Maine Earth First!er
James Gillway, Searsport town mgr, former police chief
Robert Grindrod, Montreal Maine railroad former B&A
Rosaire Pelletier, Aroostook legislator
Bruce Probert, Searsport resident career exec retired from Sprague
Joan Saxe, Maine Sierra Club
Dianne Smith, Town of Searsport
Eliza Townsend, Maine Dept of Conservation
Bob Ziegelaarm Maine Port Authority, Telford Aviation
Steve Miller, Islesboro Island Land Trust

Alternates are
Becky Bartovics , Penobscot Bay Alliance and
James Therriault, Sprague Eneregy