Jan 31, 2008

LEGIS - Maine fish habitat to be protected when 'imperiled'

A law protecting Maine fish habitat is up for amendment by the legislature.

LD 2016 An Act To Safeguard Imperiled or Critically Imperiled Natural Communities within Protected Natural Resources
Official Summary: "This bill provides protection under the Natural Resource Protection Act for imperiled or critically imperiled natural communities, as identified by the Department of Conservation, that are located within protected natural resources."

It does that by adding the phrase " imperiled or critically imperiled natural communities, " to the list of ecological communities that a would-be developer must not harm with its project, if they want to receive a Natural Resources Protection Act permit.

So the law would look like this: (addition in boldface)

38 MRSA §480-D, sub-§3,
3. Harm to habitats; fisheries. The activity will not unreasonably harm any significant wildlife habitat, freshwater wetland plant habitat, threatened or endangered plant habitat, imperiled or critically imperiled natural communities, aquatic or adjacent upland habitat, travel corridor, freshwater, estuarine or marine fisheries or other aquatic life."

Fine and good. But does the state have definitions or guidelines for defining when a natural community is imperiled or, worse, critically imperiled?

Jan 29, 2008

Mussels of the intertidal- town control? LEGIS

Marine Resources Committee will be looking at two bills tomorrow morning starting 9AM . Wed Jan 30, 2008. One bill proposes granting coastal towns authority to regulate intertidal mussel dredging, instead of the state government; the other would make it possible for the Department of Marine Resources to more speedily close a fishery when a serious bycatch situation threatens. Listen to these hearings live on the web

LD 2006 An Act To Give Municipalities Control of Mussels Located in Intertidal Zones.
"Under current law, a municipality may adopt shellfish conservation programs. This bill expands the definition of "shellfish" to include mussels."

LD 1958. An Act To Make Marine Resources Management More Responsive.

'This bill changes all the rules that are adopted to limit the taking of a marine organism for the purpose of protecting another marine organism from major substantive rules to routine technical rules in order to allow the Department of Marine Resources to respond more effectively to fisheries management needs."

Jan 23, 2008

LURC OUT: The Plum Creek hearings are about to end. Then...?

The LURC Commissioners and their staff are to conclude their public hearings of panels of interested parties tomorrow or Friday in Augusta. They've gathered enough, heard enough, and next will have to ponder on their own the accumulated knowledge before making their decision . Like Cardinals retiring into the Vatican to decide on a new pope.

(Well, they gathered almost enough info: I was ignominiously passed over by the LURC analyst quizzing my panel, after expressing unfamiliarity with a certain state document, (which it turns out I actually had read, but didn't recognize by his description) Had he continued in the discourse with me as planned, I was to have inserted a variety of NFN-ian facts and figures into the discussion, but t'weren't to be so. Sigh....)

If you can't show up, you can listen to the hearing on LURC's live webstream during the hearing.

Jan 21, 2008

Maine bill would require killing all squatter fish found in fish pens.

For 2008, Maine DMR has introduced LD 2137. An Act To Clarify the Licensing Requirements for Aquaculturists and Allow for the Appropriate Handling of Bycatch from Aquaculture Lease Sites

The bill proposes requiring aquaculturists to kill and dispose of any 'squatter fish' found living inside the net pens along with the farmed fish or shellfish. Squatter fish (my term, not theirs) are wild species like pollock, that either were trapped in the fish pens when they were set up, or entered the pens when small enough to slip through the mesh, and have grown up with the farmed salmon, eating their food and commingling with them.

DMR fears that these animals could have become tainted with salmon diseases or parasites, and if captured and thrown back into the wild, could spread "it", whatever "it" might be. Make sense? Perhaps so. Perhaps not.

The bill's proposed addition to state law reads

"...upon harvest of finfish from the leased area pursuant to an aquaculture lease, any finfish of a species that was not cultivated on the leased area but occurred in the enclosure must also be harvested and retained for appropriate disposal by the holder of a lease
. Such finfish may not be sold and may not be released or disposed of into the waters of the State and must be reported to the department at the same time as reports of the harvest are filed."

The legislation also "clarifies that leaseholders do not need a harvester’s license unless raising shellfish." says DMR

Maine bill would disappear "vernal pools" from state law.

With the Maine legislature shifting into gear , it is time to track those bills, good and bad, that will this year go under the hammer of the committee chairs of the Marine Resources Committee, Natural Resources Committee, and Environment Committee.

Let's start with one that representative Ted Koffman introduced. (He was one of the people who pushed the incinerator legislation last round.)

The bill is LD 1952. "An Act To Streamline the Administration of Significant Vernal Pool
Habitat Protection."

Streamline indeed, for it proposes we delete the very mention of "Significant vernal pool habitat" from our state law defining "significant wildlife habitat".

Eliminating it from the list of habitat types that Maine DEP and Maine DIF&W must protect, leaves it vulnerable to the "development community" of landsharks prowling Maine's natural areas, seeking land to pounce upon and snap up, to later excrete as condos, big boxes and dumps upon our environment, leaves only the following two on that list:

(2) High and moderate value waterfowl and wading bird habitat, including
nesting and feeding areas; and
(3) Shorebird nesting, feeding and staging areas.

Those two are important for our feathered friends living in our wide open environments: shores and open shallows. The (1) that Koffman's bill would remove is likewise important, only for the forest in-dwelling animals, a completely different set of birds, amphibians, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates.

Why eliminate the pools?...does that mean that our vernal pools, those incredible pocket waterbodies that appear, disappear and reappear in the woods,the cycle of wet and dry providing a unique two-tone environment for forest amphibians to hatch, spend their childhoods, then "drybernate" (like hibernate in winter cold, only done in the heat season, when the pools temporarily dries up), does it means these habitats are so common, already so protected, that they needn't be protected at all? Or so extinct they need be considered no more?

Not hardly. Nor likely.

According to the state's bill summary, LD 1952
"...narrows the requirement for notification concerning significant
wildlife habitats from those listed in the Maine Revised Statutes, Title
38, section 480-B, subsection 10, paragraph B to those listed in section
480-B, subsection 10, paragraph B, subparagraphs (2) and (3), thereby
removing vernal pools from the operation of that notification statute."

Here's that statute. The bill proposes to snip Section1 from the law.
from http://janus.state.me.us/legis/statutes/38/title38sec480-B.html

B. Except for solely forest management activities, for which "significant
wildlife habitat" is as defined and mapped in accordance with section
480-I by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the following
areas that are defined by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
and are in conformance with criteria adopted by the Department of
Environmental Protection or are within any other protected natural

(1) Significant vernal pool habitat;
(2) High and moderate value waterfowl and wading bird habitat, including
nesting and feeding areas; and
(3) Shorebird nesting, feeding and staging areas.

Doesn't sound like a smart thing at all. Stay tuned.

Jan 19, 2008

LURC asks: Can Plum Creek build without polluting water? State Agencies: NO

Officials from three of Maine's resource agencies expressed doubt
Friday that the Plum Creek resort development proposal could be built
and operated without significantly degrading the region's environment.
Representatives of the Maine Natural Areas Program, Inland Fish and
Wildlife and Department of Environmental Protection testified and fielded questions at a public hearing of the Land Use Regulatory Commission.

The agencies were, like federal agencies US Fish and Wildlife Service and US EPA, turning out to be visibly reluctant to endorse Plum Creek's plans.

Representatives of NRCM, Maine Audubon and Native Forest Network and
other groups carried out cross examinations and testified at the

Officials from IF&W said Plum Creeks proposed easement fails to
offset its resort and condo development, and recommended Plum Creek be barred from any development on the shoreline of Indian Pond and expressed concerns about development in deer yards around Burnham Pond.

The Maine Natural Areas Program told the Commissioners that Plum
Creek's plan won't adequately deal with potential exotic species impacts of both land and water resources.

Maine DEP Watershed Planner Jeff Dennis 287-7847 told the Land Use
Regulatory Commission Friday that Plum Creek's current rezoning
proposal could not be approved without significantly degrading the
water quality of Moosehead Lake and neighboring streams and ponds
within the proposed resorts and condos area.

Dennis said the would-be developer proposes to avoid polluting the
lakes, ponds and streams of the area using "thousand of buffer ones
that are being relied on to meet these standards."

Shown here speaking with NFN after the hearing, Dennison warned that unless carefully maintained, buffers will not carry out their functions. LURC and Plum Creek would have to come up with a strategy that would ensure each of the thousands of buffers be regularly inspected. "The challenge for LURC", Dennis noted, "is that this is scattered all over the landscape," adding that the extensive underground drainage system Plum Creek has proposed would also need regular maintenance to prevent from failing.

The Department's experience with other developers using buffers is
that not only are they frequently not maintained but "we know that
there are buffer violations," such as homeowners cutting down trees
in a buffer to improve the view from their vacation homes.

One LURC Commissioner noted that LURC had recently approved a 900
resort unit addition to Saddleback Mountain Resort in Rangely. Was
that a Class A water shed? he wondered. Given the information coming
from Maine DEP now, "I'm not sure why we voted to approve that."

NFN's Ron Huber cross-examined Plum Creek consultant Frederick
Kirchies, asking what sources he used to determine that there would
be no adverse impacts to the shallow waters near the shoreline of the
lakes and ponds within Plum Creek's development zone.

Kirchies, who had already acknowledged to an earlier cross-examiner
that much of the information he submitted was up to half a century
old, said he had not carried out any of the field work examining the
shallow waters, but had relied on verbal assurances from persons
familiar with the waterbodies to reach his conclusion that none of the
developments on any of the ponds or lakes would have any adverse
impacts at all.

"Nothing written? Nothing on the record?" Huber asked. Kirchies said
no. In response to queries from LURC, several state agency reps
suggested that the only way Plum Creek could avoid adversely
affecting the environment inside its development area would be by
allowing degradation of its proposed adjacent conservation areas.
This, it was noted would partly defeat the purpose of the
conservation areas.

The LURC Commission meets again to discuss the Plum Creek proposal on
Saturday in Greenville.

# # #

Jan 12, 2008

Seal Island fishermen - No sunken bombs in the 'Danger Zone'

In a posting last summer, the Bay Watch asserted that in the 1940s and 50s

"... several generations of student bomber-trainees frequently missed the slender W-shaped[Seal] island during their practice bombing runs....To this day, scores of bay-area fishermen can recount encounters with sunken ordnance during their careers.

NOT SO FAST THERE, CHIEF. The Watch has heard from than two Bay fishermen
with extensive knowledge of the waters around Seal Island, who state that, apart from a few metal fragments, there have been no unexploded shells or rockets washed up, towed up or snarled up from the waters around Seal Island in at minimum decades.

S.R. wrote:
Never in the last 15-20 have I heard of a fisherman snarling back an
unexploded bomb; they get pieces of metal every now and then, but no
unexploded bombs. Your web site, however, says that scores of fishermen
have repeatedly snarled back bombs; that is false. Scores would mean at
least 40 - there happen to hardly be 40 fishermen who fish around Seal
Island. Where did you get that data?

JD wrote:
During the last twenty years I have never seen nor heard a report of a bomb washing ashore. Where did you get reports of bombs washing ashore? I've not heard of fishermen snarling bombs down there recently either, where did those reports come from?

So where did the report of 'scores' of fishermen encountering WW2 bombs and rockets, of dud munitions washing ashore around this island in the outer Penobscot Bay, come from?

Checking.... Stay tuned.

Jan 9, 2008

Sears Island - at risk of LNG again?

Someone asked me recently
Is the LNG issue still at large?

He was referring to Penobscot Bay, after reading an undated penbay.org webpage from 2004, on the then-proposal to build an LNG port on Sears Island; for all he knew, it was recent news.

My answer to Is the LNG issue still at large?

Yes and no. (But the yes has been increasing recently) Let's take a look back:

In 2004, LNG was kiboshed at Sears Island, after PBW's 2003-2004 FOAs of Governor Baldacci on the topic revealed his covert support for the proposal; outraged upper bay residents pressured him into agreeing to abide by a Searsport plebiscite, which rejected LNG at Sears Island.

The LNG issue then moved downeast, was swiftly thumbs-downed in Winter Harbor, but took root with the Passamaquoddy Nation and with another group of investors, only to run into the opposition of the Canadian government, which may well doom the two proposals there by barring LNG vessels entry into Passamaquoddy Bay by the only route that is even
remotely safe for large vessels.

Now? Over the last year and a half, the Maine Department of Transportation, state planning office and others, have managed to browbeat, outnegotiate and otherwise wear down most Sears Island protectors/opponents of the LNG proposal into signing off on an agreement to allow port development on 1/3 of Sears Island. In exchange for....a no-development easement on the rest of the island, and permission to build a visitors center.

What kind of port? That wasn't agreed upon. Could it be LNG once more? Possibly. Now that the LNG proposals on the shore of Passamaquoddy Bay are showing signs of defeat, Sears Island is the only logical site left in Maine.

And this time, most of the area environmental community, having signed off on that Sears-Island-port-is-okay agreement**, will have no legs to stand opposed on, for the agreement they signed pledged them not to oppose any port proposal for the island, as long as the port wannabes follow the regulatory process.

Oh...Governor Baldacci's promise still stands, but something like an 'energy emergency' or other plausible claim could well get him to backtrack on THAT.

** The agreement reached by the now-defunct stakeholders group stated specifically that

" 1) Inappropriate Uses for Sears Island: The Steering Committee acknowledges the position of Governor Baldacci that no LNG facility will be sited over the objection of local residents, and acknowledges that the majority of Searsport residents have clearly objected to siting such a facility within their community. The Steering Committee therefore agrees that no LNG facility of any kind would be an appropriate use for Sears Island."

As aforementioned, this Steering Committee no longer exists...but one hopes its agreements linger on.

The effect of other kinds of industrial ports on Penobscot Bay marine ecology would be similar to that of an LNG terminal - if not worse: (ballast water-mediated invasives, loss of eelgrass meadows important for groundfish larvae, among other impacts.

Arguably the most important thing to be done for Penobscot Bay right now is ensuring that the new federal regulation is finalized that designates Gulf of Maine coastal shallows, including those of Penobscot Bay, as Habitat Area of Particular Concern for juvenile Atlantic cod. See http://www.penbay.org/bm/hapcme.html

Once this process passes through its regulatory reviews, developers that want to impinge on the coast will have to demonstrate that their runoffs and discharges will not harm the prey of juvenile cod, let alone the juvenile cod themselves. The prey for freshly hatched cod -
amoebas and other soft protozoans -- are very susceptible to pesticides, and oil-tainted runoff. The timeline for that regulation is sometime late this year or early next.

Jan 4, 2008

Maine/NH Port Safety Forum January 30th: LNG; icebreaking, port security, Penobscot Bay & much more

Penobscot Bay maritime issues, LNG, icebreaking and more will be among the many topics discussed January 31st at the 80th meeting of the Maine/New Hampshire Port Safety Forum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The event will take place 10:00 AM at the NH Dept. of Environmental Services, in Portsmouth, NH. Members of the public are welcome to attend as observers.

The meeting agenda includes updates & presentations on:
Right whale sightings, by Kristen Koyama, NMFS; Maritime Incident Resources & Training for Piscataqua & Merrimack River Region (Val Pamboukes, Portsmouth FD, Ret.); LNG Update-Al Moore, USCG; results of the Frontier Sentinel port security exercise, a mock attack against a navy supply ship. (Lt Cdr Mike Sams, USCG); the raising of the 40 foot Seahawke, a 40 ft boat that sank in Great Bay, NH, (Rick Berry, NHDES); the new Transportation Worker ID Card (Al Moore, USCG); and the Homeport Program (LTJG Beacher, USCG).

Participants will also discuss a Small Passenger Vessel Seminar (call for topics) (LT Green, USCG) and get a report on the Ice Breaking season to date, CWO Chase, USCG)

Under New Business, John Henshaw of the Maine Port Authority will lead a discussion of Penobscot Bay maritime issues. (what are these issues? I'll have to ask him); other new biz includes a proposed Waterway Round-Table Discussion of "port access thresholds" LTJG Miller; the America's Waterway Watch & Sea Partner Program (LT Green) and interpretation of the CBP Passenger Vessel Services Act (John Henshaw, Maine Port Authority).

The event will take place 10:00 AM at the NH Dept. of Environmental Services, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Members of the public are welcome to attend as