Aug 11, 2009

Activists-into-eco-yuppies. The secret role of NGOs in government's 4th attack on Sears Island

The remarkable general & near-absolute refusal of Maine's ENGO nature conservation community to take part in repelling the state's third major Sears Island Port Initiative in 15 years invites analysis. . In Part 1, below, we will consider the state of Sears Island conservation , including a detailed look at one key figure in the so-far-disastrous history of the latest Sears Island struggle.

The present state of this latest attack.
The so-far 4 year long Sears Island Joint Users Planning Committee (JUPC) -a government consensus group decision making organization set up by Maine DOT, shows either superior strategy and initiative on the the pro-port stakeholders on the JUPC committee (state/ municipal government, shipping & rail industry), or an inexplicable nonchalance by the environmental heavies on Sears Island protection: Sierra Club (Maine Chapter), Maine Earth First! under the Friends of (Part of) Sears Island false flag and Islesboro Islands Trust, as far as holding up the ecological end of the Joint Users discussion table has gone.

Defeats so far:
Consider the results since the 2006 start of the Joint Use Planning Committee meetings & events in Searsport, Belfast and Augusta, courtesy of the above ENGOs

* They have given away with scarely a murmur more than ten times the island acreage they so fiercely fought to keep undeveloped by Governor's McKernan and King.

* they have declined to consider the devastating impact of their JUPC decisions on the future functionality of the island's intertidal and subtidal nursery shoals, critical to both Penobscot Bay and Penobscot River restoration.

* They have consensed with the state and federal agencies to waive MDOT carrying out a standardized review of the island's ecology, its recreational resources, and its fisheries and historic & prehistoric assets, normally required under federal guidelines before planning starts on a major transportation-related project.

* They have consensed with the state & industry that there shall be no piercing of the unlawfully-built tidal flow-extinguishing solid stone causeway that MDOT rushed out to Sears Island under the legal pretence they were building a "bridge". Reopening this water route around Sears Island once more will spur the repopulating of the massive clam flats of the area, previously the bay's richest. Yet piercing the Sears Island Causeway is the most important short term need of the Estuary Complex surrounding Sears Island

The grassroots thought: These battle tested veterans of decades of successfully defending the Atlantic
Seaboard's largest, most important state owned unprotected natural island/estuarine complex from the build-it-they-will-come port speculators: surely they will hold their own (and better) in fending off yet one more port-first/enviromental review later plan. This time being the second by Governor John Baldacci.

Surely great meetings would be convened, where the public could help shape the outcome of the fate of this public island, as they so ably had against the McKernan Container port, the King woodchip port, and the Baldacci LNG terminal. All three plans reside in in the Dustbin of History thanks to the inspired and unstinting labors of some remarkable people in the aforementioned organizations.

But that was then. THIS IS NOW: Since they ratified the MDOT-Eco-Yuppy Deal in 2007, and then finalized it earlier this year as a perpetual conservation easement(2.5mb pdf) by MCHT over 2/3 of the public island, the Sierra Club, Earth First!/FOPSI, Islesboro Islands Trust and their allies have continued meeting privately with government and shipping officials, and have even sought and secured funding from them to carry out greensprawl on Sears Island

In fact, since their induction into Maine DOT's Skull & Bones-like closeknit consensus JUPC comunity, all those groups have both declined to answer citizen questions during the Q&A period all have repeatedly, stubbornly refused to come to any community forum to explain and defend their decision to support Island partition. and as Freedom of Access law documents show, bigfoot groups like NRCM were lurking around the edges, seeking their own piece of the pie.



It is one thing to be asleep at the wheel, as , alas, hard working Sierra Club Maine chapter leader Joan Saxe, right, frequently was at the JUPC meetings.
But it is another to agressively take on a role actively supporting the port nidustry and its partisans and in suppressing the island's defenders as much as possible

One of the central figures in causing this remarkable disengagement: the president of a little known, recently tax exempted non profit corporation called Friends Of (Part of) Sears Island, or FOPSI.

FOPSI is a special piece of work. Its 501(c)(3) status set up by IIT's law firm, FO(P)SI is represented at the Table of Power by ex-Earth First!er turned NGO president Jim Freeman. Mr. Freeman lead a series of activist campaigns in 1995 and 1996 opposition to dividing up Sears Island Under Freeman the group methodically weeded out its pro-wild island members, then cut a series of side deals with state officials and the landtrusts that powered up Freeman's group. A deal from which in exchange for cooperation, it is now reaping its financial rewards. As part of the deal, NGO watchdog Freeman warned the governor of an upcoming protest of Baldacci's port plan, and then offered to disrupt the grassroots event, which was held across the avenue from the Governor's mansion - an offer the governor's staff sensibly declined. Freeman's most bizarre action to date, however, was leaving a detailed death threat on one Sears Island defender's answering machine.)

Top FOPSI Jim Freeman - in photos with MDOT Commissioner Cole at a JUPC meeting in Searsport- attended nearly every meeting of the Sears Island Joint Use Planning Committee. Yet, as the recordings of the meetings reveal, beyond the occasional quip Freeman rarely spoke up over the course of the dozens of SIJUPC meetings. (

Freeman, president of newly tax empted Friends of Part of Sears Island, allegedly represented the Public Interest. With his strong history of organizing creative, civilly disobedient actions in response to attacks on Sears Island by former governors Jock McKernan(R) and Angus King (Ind-ustry). Freeman's considerable skills in shaping the "tone" of the successful struggle to save Sears Island from those two port wannabes.

never once consulted with the public as island dismemberment and port plans were hatched, nurtured and expanded by MDOT and ever-greedy-for-acres MCHT and its partners in landtrustery. During those proceedings, President Freeman maintained an eerie silence, a passivity as great as that of Joan Saxe, Maine Sierra Club leader also seated at the green side of the Joint Use Planning Comittee table. Both sat by as the wonderfuly skilled facilitator that MDOT's hired for this odd bit of MDOT Consensus Governance carried out his paymaster's wishes for maximum portifacation of Wasumkeag the industrial decisionmakers and land trusters spun their port 'n' park fantasy into ever more solidity during the two year JUPC decisionmaking process.

Now, as a reward, the FOPSIs, eyes still firmly averted from the codfish nurseries and wild salmon refuges off the third of Sears Island (that pesky "other part" that they so blithely condemned to destruction in return for rights to deepen existed fragementation of the "protected part" of our public island), are striking deals with a variety of state agencies to gain their financial backing for further strikes into the "protected" part of the island.

The silence of the led-to-slaughter ENGO lambs apparently, won't extend FOPSI whenever a debate take off from WERU Community radio; FOPSI's getting fat & happy, and will doubtless genially agree to disagree, grinning all the way to the bank. One is minded of Pickwick's servant Sam Weller, advising his master not to fret about a certain rogue: "Hold still, Sir: wot's the use o' runnin' arter a man as has made his lucky, and got to t' other end of the Burough by this time?" Indeed Jim and his fellow FOPSIs are experiencing bliss as they burrow into the warm bosom of the industrial state.

Leaving nothing out, the FOPSI commander has kept a close alliance as well with State senator from hell Dennis Damon, who chairs both the Transportation and Marine Resources committee. Damon has ruled the Transpo Committee with an iron hand; earlier this year forcing bewildered freshman legislators to approve the plan (mp3) to dismember the island - without reading a line of the agreement first!

As for the Marine Resources Committee, Senator Damon has completely blocked any briefing of that committee on the probable nasty consequences to Penobscot Bay's lobster and groundfish fisheries if a port is actually built and the bay's best nursery shoals are dredged away. Silence is golden, in Damon's book, echoing his pal Jim Freeman's response of stubborn silence to public entreaties that he save the island or at least explain what FOPSi and the rest of the JUPCites were and are up to.

And then there's the Sierra Club. Looking and acting guilty as sin, from Maine chapter to the highest floors of Sierra Club Tower, their San Francisco HQ. Mindful of the historic fight that Sierra Club put up in defense of Sears Island in the 20th century, the current crop of leaders has worked feverishly at seeking public relations solutions that will allow them to gracefully spin their rejection of club members' efforts to get their leaders to explain their part in chopping Sears Island apart. Their Sears Island webpage is a giggle

The Sierra Club's excuse for declining attendance at a proposed public forum at the Alamo Theater in Bucksport next month positively reeks of well thought out disingenuousness:

The Club, Cline has sadly informed forum host WERU FM Community radio, will not take part in any debate ab0ut its role in dismembering Sears Island. Why? For fear that its "volunteer" who would take part in the discussion might be subjected to "slander and abuse" by those ruffian whole-islanders.

The passive-aggressive use of "Sierra Club volunteer" in their excuse to WERU instead of "Sierra Club leader" is clever but reprehensible. Cannot one of the Sierra Club Maine Chapter's leaders, such as the one who an environmental law professor, take part in a open public forum held by a respected public radio station at a well guarded small town venue?
Perhaps criticism from the public, whose "interest" the Club, like the FOPSIans, supposedly represents, would be too undignified a situation for a Member of the Club to risk encountering.

Or is the prospect of having to make a stand at the Alamo Theater in Bucksport is too rich with gloomy portents to bear...?

Sears Island waits for you. And waits. And waits.

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