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.


Peter Taber said...

The rigged agreement announced last spring that was orchestrated behind the scenes by the usual snakes at the DOT and fronted by the Baldacci administration does in fact deem an LNG port and regasification plant on Sears Island to be inappropriate.

But consider an amply demonstrated record on the part of the corporate whores in Augusta of betraying the true economic interests of the people of Maine and, more importantly, of betraying their stewardship responsibilities to all people now living and yet to be born.

Also consider the feeble efforts of the supposed defenders of Sears Island: the local folk who with craven compliance meekly allowed themselves to be manipulated at every turn; the pseudo-environmentalist leaders at the Maine Sierra Club, at Islesboro Islands Trust, at Coastal Mountains Land Trust, who, it turned out, gave first priority to their own development schemes for the island; even the silly kids at Earth First who after playing their usual self-indulgent kiddie games with the police authorities absented themselves totally from the struggle.

It is indeed a sorry record and few involved in this struggle come out of it looking very good. Unless more people, more determined people, make themselves heard, there is every reason to believe that the largest entirely wild island in public hands on the Eastern Seaboard will ultimately be destroyed.

Ron said...

Dang. So what's to be done?

Astrig in Maine said...

The agreement was heavily orchestrated to achieve the goals of the bureaucrats on both the environmental and industrialization sides of the table...I don't think that it's fair to call those of us who want to defend Sears Island as "meek" or "feeble" or "ready to be manipulated at every turn." In my humble opinion, those who are paid to attend meetings on a regular basis are simply better at playing the game...those of us who work on the outside have been outplayed for the moment...but the issue is far from dead.

Ron said...

Peter, you can be rather severe in your criticisms.

Astrig are you part of the JUPC? I know they're meeting this week.

Astrig in Maine said...

no, I was voted off the island so to speak by nameless but not faceless powers of control