Oct 23, 2008

Deal of Shame: Fall '08 ME Sierra Club newsletter omits Sears Island!

It was positively astonishing to open the very latest newsletter from the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club that arrived in the Penobscot Bay Watch post office box.

Surely, I thought, Sears Island must be the top feature - the Club's Gordian knot-cutting courage and cleverness adopting the "historic" Joint Use consensus compromise also praised by land trusters, Governor and railroad baronet alike.

No. Nothing. Not a word about Sears island.

Shouldn't the eight page Maine Sierra Club chapter newsletter be awash in minutiae of the MDOT plan this 940 acre island that the Club signed onto? The one splitting Sears Island into natural and industrial port zones.

For now the final steps loom:

MDOT must secure approval by the Legislature's transportation Committee of its Joint Use plan. Especially its private conservation easement with MCHT on 600 acres of public land on the 941 acre island Should this approval be granted (and this is by no means a sure thing) then a shadowy container port developer waiting in the wings will stride forth into the glare of the public spotlight.

UPDATE: According to an Army Corps of Engineers official, if the legislature approves the Joint Use Plan, the Corps expects to receive a Sears Island port development application before the end of November.

But according to the "Deal" that Maine Sierra Club signed months ago, the Club is committed to acquiescing in that developer's port plan, as long as it meets environmental standards. The Club can hardly protest that the island is not a good location, for as signatory to the Baldacci Consensus Agreement on Sears Island, Sierra Club's official position must be that the island is an "appropriate" location for one.

But in the newsletter not a word on 'port-appropriate' Wassumkeag.

Alas, Wasumkeag! "Island of the Shining Shore" to the Wabanakis for so many thousands of years! Both natural Noah's ark of coastal Maine plant and animal species, and a sheltering lea behind which Penobscot Bay's most important fish nursery and anadromous fish staging areas carry out their brackish water ecological duties, uniting river, bay and Gulf of Maine! Industrial sprawl is imminent.

For the leadership of the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club is comfortable with Sears Island as but one more "issue" to use as bargaining chip in the unending game of influence in Statehouse evironmental politics. The chapter's webpage on Sears Island hasn't been updated in six months.

The rank and file of the Maine Sierra Club Chapter, it has been decided, won't be allowed to vote on whether their conservation group should stand shoulder to shoulder with a container port developer. Tsk Tsk.

No mention?

The Fall 2008 edition of the Maine Sierran discusses a lot of other things. It endorses four candidates, ponders transboundary forestry between Maine and Canada, invites one to "Sierra Club Maine's Annual Dinner", November 14th in Freeport; frowns upon continuing Bush admin machinations against the Clean Water Act; admits to being "stunned" when LURC gave Plum Creek a preliminary OK to commit sprawl at Moosehead Lake. Joan Saxe praises Governor Baldacci's "right direction on Rail Transportation"; two wind turbine proposals get the nod; "informed growth" regulations are examined, and a number of outings and hikes are offered. But, .......

Not a peep about Sears Island .

In 2005, Club leaders promised to "permanently protect the natural heritage and public access legacies of Sears Island"

Where did that promise go?

Oct 15, 2008

Sears Island - Legislators don't trust Sierra Club

Better no Sears Island plan than this flawed one.

A sentiment shared by pro-porters and anti-porters at today's statehouse meeting. (though not held by the JUPCians)

Inside packed room 126 of the Statehouse today, members of the Joint Committee on Transportation reacted with suspicion to the latest version of the Sears Island Joint Use Committee's plan brought before them. LISTEN TO RECORDINGS FROM THE EVENT HERE

This latest iteration grants ENGO Maine Coast Heritage Trust a perpetual conservation easement over 600 acres of the 940 island, while simultaneously opening the western third of the island to industrial port development.

Opponents of the port plan have been suggesting to committee members that the lengthy draft conservation easement contains wording in its fine print that will give the Sierra Club and Maine Coast Heritage Trust the ability to fend off any future port plan.

The whisper campaign seems to have worked. After listening to Transportation Commissioner Cole presentation, and following a lengthy question & answer session, the committee decided

(1) They would not vote on approving or disapproving the still-incomplete Joint use Plan (there are still issues with the exact wording of the easement) , and

(2) they didn't trust Sierra Club, Friends of Sears Island and Penobscot Bay Alliance not to turn around once the legislature signed off on the JUPC plan and and stab them in the back by suddenly bringing anti port litigation up when a container port wanabe rears its head.

Lush photographs of the island taken a few days earlier proved popular with committee members, though Chairman Damon took umbrage at the term "sacrifice zone" that accompanied the online picture gallery of the natural environment in the proposed port zone that he was referring to.

There'll be another legislature meeting on Sears Island next month. Who knows what will happen?

Oct 14, 2008

Sears Island - Legislators to get JUPC "progress" report & citizen opposition in the statehouse wednesday

Sears Island defenders to rally Wednesday outside Legislative committee hearing on island port/conservationist plan.

Augusta. On Wednesday October 15th 10 am in Room 126 of the Statehouse, MDOT, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Sierra Club of Maine will give a progress report to the Maine Legislature's Transportation Committee on their Sears Island Joint Use Plan. The plan includes a proposed perpetual conservation easement on the eastern 600 acres of the island. In turn, MDOT will be allowed to designate the western 300 acres of Sears Island and more than 200 acres of intertidal land as an industrial port development zone.

Critics of the divide-the-island plan, including representatives of Fair Play for Sears Island and Penobscot Bay Watch, the Maine Green Independent Party, and numerous individual citizens of Maine - say legislative approval of the proposed division of the island would ignite a fast track for would-be container port developers along the side of the island facing Searsport.

Such a port would threaten Penobscot Bay's natural groundfish and salmon nursery shoal and degrade what scientists agree is the unique and irreplaceable combination of island/nearshore brackish waters ecosystems, which together host members of virtually all Maine coastal species, land and marine.

"Just leave this natural Noah's Ark alone," said Harlan McLaughlin of Fair Play for Sears Island

The Transportation Committee will be asked to approve giving Maine Coast Heritage Trust a 600 acre perpetual conservation buffer easement over the east side of Sears Island, with the right to develop a wal-mart-sized tax-exempt educational and entertainment complex within this "protected" area, and to charge admission to get on the island when hosting certain events.

The shipping industry gets the tacit nod by Sierra Club to terraform 300 acres of wetland-laced forest, and 100 acres of intertidal area, along the west and south sides of Sears Island. There the industry may clearcut, blast, bulldoze and grade the island, as long as the state's development standards are met.

"there they may build and operate a water-polluting, air quality-reducing, groundfish nursery-dredging, noisemaking container port and railyard/truckyard complex," said Ron Huber of Penobscot Bay Watch - "A stake in the brackish water heart of upper Penobscot Bay's estuary, with implications for the outer Bay fisheries."

This will reduce the quality of life of those living in the upper and lower bay towns - humans and wildlife alike! "You couldn't pick a worse place to portify," he said.

Another victim of the Sears Island affair, said Huber, is the reputation of the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club, "which abandoned decades of protecting Sears Island in favor of a highly questionable win-win deal with industry." Huber said. Worse, Sierra Club's support for the Joint use Plan was made by a small select group of club officials. The state membership was not polled on whether or not the Club should support MDOT's Sears island plan.

Sears Island is the largest undeveloped coastal island on the Atlantic coast of the United States.

Let's keep it that way.

For more information contact:

Ron Huber, Penobscot Bay Watch 207-691-7485 coastwatch@gmail.com
Harlan McLaughlin, Fair Play for Sears Island. 207-548-9962

# # #

Oct 2, 2008

Sears Is. JUPC-ian bobble-heads try to shrug off the Sacrifice Zone.

"It's not Joint Use Planning you've been carrying out; it's Single Use Planning."

So said Ron Huber on behalf of Penobscot Bay Watch and Fair Play for Sears
Island at the October 3rd meeting of the Sears Island Joint Use Planning Committee.

The response (in so many words:) sorry! not our department. We don't have to care about the pollution and habitat loss that the Second Joint Use -port construction- would bring.

Why not?

Because Governor Baldacci only "tasked us" with protecting the easement area. That was the answer, summarized . Everyone nodded emphatically. They didn't HAVE to care about the other part of the island. Let the chips fall there as they may. Let that rabid dog sleep....we'll deal with it after it awakens and starts biting into the island.

After all, the land trusters have got their pound of flesh, all 600+ acres of it; the Sierra Club gets to host group events at a Wal-Mart sized educational/recreational complex plopped unceremoniously into the midst of the island's so-called "protected" area; the port wannabes have got carte blanche to do what they wilt in the western part of the island.

Huber presented copies of a "Transportation Area Advisory Council" proposal put togther by Fair Play for Sears Island and Penobscot Bay Watch to JUPC's members at the beginning of the meeting and gave a brief intro outlining the main points:

* In any conceiveable configuration of an industrial port, the 330 acre'Marine Transportation Zone" would be subject to the environmental impacts of dredging, land clearing and the chronic waste discharges associated with port, trucking and rail development and operation.

* An advisory council of scientific and environmental NGOs and agencies is needed to provide guidance to MDOT and other state agencies when they review development proposals and on carrying out environmental management of the 330 acre site and its abutting 120 acre nursery shoal.

The council membership could be (groups and agencies listed only as examples)

• Maine Department of Environmental Protection,
• Maine Department of Conservation;
• Maine Department of Marine Resources
• Fair Play For Sears Island
• Conservation Law Foundation
• Penobscot Bay Stewards
• University of Maine School of Marine Sciences
• Downeast Lobstermens' Association
• Midcoast Fishermens Alliance

Huber then used the public comment period at the close of the meeting to point out the importance of aggressive oversight of the marine port zone. He twitted their failure as a committee to get beyond planning solely for the "single use" of managing the on-island auditorium, nature center and hiking trails within the 640 acre portions of eastern and southeastern Sears Island, under a "perpetual" easement to be given Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

The 330 acre sacrifice zone and its adjoining fish nursery shoal? What about that? Is there no Planning for Sears island's "second use" of hosting an industrial port? Are MDOT's Joint Use Planners planning... not to plan? Just react to whatever port development wannabe shows up?

No planning on how to limit damage to Penobscot Bay's productive fisheries, tourism and recreation industries from the handful of possible commercial/industrial port types that could conceivably be built on Sears Island?

Compare this to the RTAC work done on the highways of the state. The Regional Transportation Advisory Committees went over the highways and bridges of our state with fine toothed combs.

So here's MDOT, the Sierra Club, the land trustees and otherJUPC-ites, studiously taking not the slightest interest or even notice of the shipping and port industries' pack of 800 pound gorillas poised to dredge, blast and bulldoze their way onto the island.

Or if they do, 'it's only to squint nearsightedly and say "Look! Something warm and fuzzy!"

Oct 1, 2008

Sears Island! JUPC meets10/3/08, noon. Shall the sacrifice zone stay off the table?

Another meeting - perhaps the ultimate Joint Use Planning Committee meeting? - shall be held October 3rd noon to 3pm at the Searsport Congregational Church.

Nearing the end of its mandated life, the Committee staggers toward its finish line, flogged ruthlessly by MDOT Commissioner Cole. There it hopes to hand off a completed sellout ...er..agreement, splitting the island into kill zone and conservation zone, to a skeptical legislature.

Said mission accomplished, JUPC will give up the ghost; but out of its corrupted remains shall arise a new entity, a rather oily Phoenix, its eye fixed firmly on the conservation piece of the island, its tail cocked at the sacrifice zone's hundreds of acres of forest and eelgrass.

This Frankensteinian Son of JUPC will be the creme de la creme or should we say the slime de la slime condensed from JUPC's membership, sworn to steadfastly ignore the industrial savagery to be waged against the western side of Wassumkeag, while dealing harshly, ruthlessly against litter bugs or fern poachers in the conservation zone.

Will the meeting hall at the Congregational Church in Searsport susurate with murmuring voices of surrender, or resound with cries of disagreement with the ongoing machinations of the Sears Island Joint Use Planning Committee,

The 300 acre industrial zone.
This area, the most at risk of harm, the most in need of detailed and cautious oversight, has been completely abandoned by the moderate conservation groups, compromisers like Sierra Club's

For while the list of do's and don'ts regarding the conservation zone expands like popcorn, the list of do's and don'ts on industrial activity and the permissible levels of degradation of the abandoned portion of the island and adjoining bay remains at zero. Nada. Zip. A ghost.

The unspoken 800,000 ton gorilla hulking on the western third of the island, poised to rip up its forests, fill in its fern gullies, culvert its brooks and dredge away its seagrasses shall not be acknowledged.

This studied blindness among JUPC members needs at least to be acknowledged