Mar 27, 2008

Sears Island: Does JUPC's reach exceed its grasp?

Critics of the port+park plan unfolding under the auspices of the Sears Island Joint Planning Committee say that the level of expertise on conservation and environmental issues that are endemic to the plan fall far short of what is needed. See map

But the Federal Highway Administration has washed its hands of Sears Island, recently declaring it has no requirement to review what is presently a state action.

Thus it is up to the state of Maine to provide the scrutiny of the plan's likely impacts to Penobscot Bay's fishery generally, to the island's eelgrass meadows, and upland wildlife and vegetation.

Maine DOT's process for Sears Island is remarkably similar to Plum Creek's plan for the Moosehead Lake region: ambitious development plan, but woefully short on detail.

Very little has been revealed - proposal for three lines of track , a new heavy duty roadway, MDOT request for realignment to allow 7,000 foot trains on-island. MDOT clearly has more than a vague fuzzy idea of what is up its sleeve for Wassumkeag, as the Native Americans call this gorgeous keystone island.

Plum Creek's paucity of detail when they unveiled their plan set off a public outcry that lead to the lengthy comprehensive public hearings, where every detail of the company's plan and its impact to the natural environment was made clear.

It is time for this to happen to the Sears Island Joint Use Planning Committee's plan for the future development of sears island. Let's bring MDOT's plans for the island into sharp focus, and let the public and the myriad state and federal agencies with decades of expertise on the island come forth and explain to the Maine Board of Environmental Protection what is at stake.

Under Maine statute called "Site Law", Section MRSA 38 sec 485-1-C. Approval of future development sites, the Department of Environmental Protection can require a would-be large scale developer to apply for a "Planning Permit" for any:

"development within a specified area and within specified parameters such as maximum area, groundwater usage and traffic generation, although the specific nature and extent of the development or timing of construction may not be known at the time the permit is issued. "

Sound familiar? Let's find out if the Maine Board of Environmental Protection will give this a hard look. Watch this space...


Mar 25, 2008

Historic Wabanaki camp in Rockland ravine to be 'time capsuled'.

Maine State Archaeologist Arthur Spiess has written us with a report on his recent examination of a ravine on the northwest edge of Rockland Harbor. He'd gone there an inquiry from Penobscot Bay Watch concerning a recollection from a retired fisherman that Indians had made a summer camp there in the 1940s. The camp's location on the then-Samoset Road allowed them to sell basketry and other craft goods to tourists visiting or departing the first Samoset Resort.

Archaeologist Arthur Spiess found an relatively undisturbed trash midden on the upper edge of the ravine. Its contents dated from the late 19th century to the 1940s, leading him to concur with the fisherman's account--that a summertime Indian encampment occupied the ravine site in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

If confirmed, the location, dubbed ME 372-036 would be the first coastal Indian campsite of that era to be found and examined in midcoast Maine.
Audio mp3 of the field visit. More Details: Click here Examination will have to wait, as ME 372-036 will be lightly buried upon the imminent filling of the ravine. Covered by geotextile cloth, then soil and sod, it will be available for future archeological digs in the coming years.

Dr. Spiess' further inquiries have found that Passmaquoddy Indians also camped at the ravine site.

Mar 24, 2008

Sears Island: NMFS reenters island fight.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is concerned with the direction of the Sears Island Joint Use Planning Committee is taking. The agency's opposition to the 1995 port proposal helped stop it.

Not bound by the strictures of the agreement that JUPC-ites labor under, NMFS is calling for a comprehensive conservation review of the proposed agreement, pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Act and Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act,

Under 49 USC 303, the federal transportation law commonly called "Section 4(f)
the Maine DOT and Federal Highway Administration must run their proposal to turn public land into an industrial port before the natural resrouces agencies with stewardship over the resources at risk. This includes NMFS for the eelgrass and clamflats, US Fish and Wildlife for freshwater fish and wildlife, and US EPA for the wetlands that would harmed.

Turns out that MDOT and FHWA hadn't contacted any of the three, so I did it for them. So far NMFS has risen to the challenge. Will the other agencies?

US FHWA has promised a response this week, on the Penobscot Bay Watch request, and presumably on those from NMFS and Maine Green Independent Party, other NGOs and other federal agencies, should they follow NMFS' lead. Stay tuned.

Mar 18, 2008

PEER: No new port on Sears Island!

EAST COAST’S LARGEST UNDEVELOPED ISLAND SLATED FOR CARGO PORT — Development Scheme for Maine’s Sears Island Resurfaces Again after 12 Years

Washington, DC — The Maine Department of Transportation wants to turn Sears Island in Penobscot Bay into a cargo container port, according to an agency scenario released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Under the plan, more than a third of the largest uninhabited island on the Eastern Seaboard would be paved over. The rest of the island would be used as a “mitigation bank” to facilitate wetlands destruction in other parts of the state. See Maine DOT's 2008 sales prospectus for Sears Island! (20 page pdf)


“Carving up Sears Island was a bad idea a decade ago and is even a worse idea now,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a biologist and lawyer who formerly worked for the EPA, noting that the DOT Prospectus brags that “protection of parts of Sears Island would add a significant jewel” to Maine’s conservation efforts. “If protecting ‘parts’ of Sears Island would add a jewel, saving all of Sears Island would be like appending the Hope Diamond.”

A mitigation credit bank allows developers to buy the right to fill in naturally functioning wetlands by purchasing the promise of the creation or restoration of wetlands elsewhere. In the case of Sears Island, DOT proposes that some lands be saved only in exchange for the destruction of wetlands elsewhere in the state. In addition, there are big questions about whether Sears Island could function as a mitigation bank.

“Offering Sears Island up for a wetland mitigation bank does not even pass the straight face test when the only restoration opportunities on the island consist of two sites, totaling three-eighths of an acre,” Bennett added. “The Governor of Maine should put an end to these ridiculous development scenarios and save Sears Island once and for all.”

Read Full article

Mar 16, 2008

Sears Island: Raising the bar for MDOT

Will her wetlands and eelgrass, her ferns and forests, her historic and prehistoric artifacts, her beaches and sandbars be protected from industrial development?

In the 1990s, the answer was YES

But if Maine Department of Transportation has its way this time: NO. (Click pic for larger image)

MDOT proposes divvying up Sears Island, taking a third for a future industrial port, leaving the other two thirds natural, (though allowing ENGOs to build an educational center in that natural area.)

But before the deal becomes official, Maine DOT has to satisfy the federal government that it has obeyed a certain federal law: 49 USC § 303 Policy on lands, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and historic sites Because under the regulations of this 4(f) law, the Federal Highway Administration can not approve plans for future development of a port on a public land island until Maine DOT:

(1) identifies the wildlife, historic and recreational resources that would be affected directly or indirectly;
(2) Shows there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of land from the property; and
(3) Demonstrates how the proposed action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property and its resources resulting from such use.

So before Maine Dept of Transportation can move ahead with any plans, it needs to submit a report to the federal government showing:

(1) what wildlife, historic and recreational assets exist in, on and adjacent to their third of the island. Lots of info pertaining to WILDLIFE is available from the 1990s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) made for proposed port on the island in the 1990s. Not so for HISTORIC and RECREATIONAL assets. Maine DOT will have to hire a consultant to gather information on those two assets.

(2) what wildlife, historic and recreational assets the port would destroy or damage that exist in, on and adjacent to their third of the island. Again the 1990s EIS and other studies and reviews carried out by federal and state agencies in the 1990s will describe much of these assets and the likely adverse impacts of port development on Sears Island.

(3) What alternatives there are that would allow similar kind of development, but off of the island. Mack Point? Orrington, Bangor? Portland? Halifax?

So lets look at some details of what ought to be in Maine DOT's DRAFT version of their Section 4(f) report to the FHWA.

1. Description of Project
Describe the proposed project, including the purpose and need for the project.

2. A brief introduction that identifies:
a. The basic requirements of Section 4(f).
b. The Section 4(f) resource(s) affected.
c. The alternatives under consideration that would affect the Section 4(f) resource(s).

3. Description of each Section 4(f) resource:

a. A detailed map or drawing of sufficient scale to identify the relationship of the alternatives to the Section 4(f) property.
b. Size (acres or square feet) and location (maps, sketches, etc.) of the affected Section 4(f) property.
c.Type of property (recreation, historic, wildlife.) and ownership (public, private etc.).
d. Function of or available activities on the property (swimming, golfing, baseball, wildlife habitats.).
e. Description and location of all existing and planned facilities (tennis courts, baseball diamonds, etc.).
f. Access (pedestrian, vehicular) and usage (approximate number of users/visitors, etc.).
g. Relationship to other similarly used lands in the vicinity.
h. Relationship to ecologically important wildlife areas adjacent to the prooerty.
i. Applicable clauses affecting the ownership, such as lease, easement, covenants, restrictions, or conditions, including forfeiture.
j Unusual characteristics (flooding problems, terrain conditions, high value viewshed, rare or significant wildlife habitat or other features) that reduce or enhance the value of all or part of the property.

4. Environmental impacts during construction for each alternative on each Section 4(f) property (quantify where possible):

a. Acquisition of land (acres or square feet) and facilities (include map).
b. Access.
c. Aesthetics.
d. Air Quality.
e. Noise.
f. Water.
g. Wildlife/Fisheries
h. Land use in the vicinity.

5. Environmental impacts during operation for each alternative on each Section 4(f) property:

a. Acquisition of land (acres or square feet), if different from construction impact, and facilities (include map).
b. Access.
c. Aesthetics.
d. Air Quality.
e. Noise.
f. Water.
g. Wildlife/Fisheries
h. Land use in the vicinity. Include impacts of growth induced by project.

6. Avoidance alternatives and their impacts.

Identify and evaluate location and design alternatives that would avoid harm to the Section 4(f) property and its surrounds.

Generally, this would include alternatives to either side of the property. Where an alternative would use land from more than one Section 4(f) property, the analysis needs to evaluate alternatives which avoid each and all properties (23 CFR 771.135(i)).

The design alternatives should be in the immediate area of the property and consider minor alignment shifts, a reduced facility, retaining structures, etc., individually or in combination, as appropriate.

Detailed discussions of alternatives in an EIS or EA need not be repeated in the Section 4(f) portion of the document, but should be referenced and summarized.

However, when alternatives (avoiding Section 4(f) resources) have been eliminated from detailed study, the discussion should also explain whether these alternative are feasible and prudent and, if not, the reasons why. (T 6640.8A, p. 45.)

7. Mitigation measures, commitments, and monitoring procedures to minimize harm. Discuss all possible measures which are available to minimize the impacts of the proposed action on the Section 4(f) property(ies). Detailed discussions of mitigation measures in the EIS or EA may be referenced and appropriately summarized, rather than repeated. (T 6640.8A, p. 46.)

8. Coordination with other agencies The coordination should include a discussion of avoidance alternatives, impacts, and measures to minimize harm:

a. State Historic Preservation Officer/State Wildlife/Marine/Environmental Commissioners.
b. Local officials with jurisdiction.
c. Historic societies, conservation and environmental groups, museums, academic institutions.
d. Historic consultant.
e. Archaeological consultant.
f. Wildlife Consultant.
g. Fisheries.
h. Wetlands Consultant
i. Recreation Consultant.
j. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP).
k. Indian Tribes


Let's make make sure they do it, and do it right!