Sep 26, 2009

Samoset hosts Offshore Wind pub info mtg September 29th 6:30-9pm

On Tuesday September 29th, the Samoset Resort in Rockport will host a public information meeting held by the Maine Department of Conservation and the Maine State Planning Office on proposals for demonstration sites off maine for offshore windfarming.  The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m., and lasts until 9 p.m.

 Whether you are interested in a new clean industry and or about the reduced air and water pollution by switching to wind and solar, or  concerned about the impacts of wind turbines onfishing, lobsters, birds and other marine life in Maine coastal waters (or both), this is for you.

This will be the final of five public information meetings scheduled this month.

Background. Legislation passed this year mandates that the Department of Conservation and the State Planning Office work together to identify between one and five demonstration sites in Maine's coastal water to test the components necessary to develop offshore wind power, including floating platforms, anchoring systems, and new lightweight blade composites.   State agencies are required to identify the sites by the middle of December.

According to state officials, the purpose of the public meeting is to gather information, such as fishing and recreational uses, as well as natural resource constraints, so that exact designation of the sites is done as collaboratively as possible. More information available here and  here and here and here

Sep 18, 2009

MDOT- Sears Island container port would NOT reduce state's truck traffic.

At a recent public forum about Sears Island, MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole let out a big secret as he laid out his agency's vision of a Sears Island port.  It would not be an ordinary container port, he said,

It would be a "Trans-shipment container port."

"The paradigm has significantly shifted" Cole declared, describing the plan for Sears Island to be  

"a  trans-shipment containerport connecting Maine to Europe, Asia and other parts of the world. is now part of the environmental solution"   He envisioned "...stacked containers moving by rail  from ships docking at Sears Island directly to depots in the midwestern US  by way of Montreal."

"The reality is" Cole piously said  "a third of our carbon footprint comes from the transportation sector. If we're going to be serious at reducing it, you've got to work at finding more economical and environmentally friendly and energy efficient  ways of  moving goods.  Shipping by sea and by rail -it would be a railport  -comes to the port of Searsport as the most environmentally friendly way of moving goods."

 Part of the environmental solution, eh? Most environmentally friendly, huh?  Certainly that would be true if the port and rail system Cole dreams about  would replace the trucks that fill our roads and highways, ceaselessly delivering to wholesale and retail outlets the goods we use in out daily lives.

But it won't! The Baldacci Admin dream is a "trans-shipment container railport" remember?   Sears Island will just be a sort of global trade portal zone. One where containers from overseas are transferred to railcars for shipment nonstop to commercial centers in the Midwestern US. Not a single container will stay in Maine.

Meanwhile the highways will still be jammed with trucks, trucks,  trucks...

Sep 16, 2009

Media: Sears Island takes center stage, at Alamo

Not bad!  though I wish she'd mentioned my main point when she wrote: "it might impact Penobscot Bay." to summarize my depiction of the awesome marine fertility of the island's shoals area and how it is being needlessly threatened for a port for which, Commissioner Cole in so many words admitted, there is no need, only an opportunity.  But I think  that opportunity would be on the backs of nature and the nature based economies of Penobscot Bay. - RH


Capital Weekly. Augusta Maine

Sears Island takes center stage, at Alamo
By Tanya Mitchell   (Mitchell attended the S914/09 event)

Sep 16, 2009
Bucksport — What better place to hold a forum about the future of an island that has been at the heart of decades-long arguments about how best to use it?

Than at The Alamo.

Voices on various sides of the Sears Island debate were broadcast live over WERU FM airwaves Sept. 14 throughout the two-hour forum.

While the discussion initially attracted a light crowd — with about a third of the theater seats occupied at the start — the audience steadily grew as the show progressed.

The forum was billed as a discussion about the future of the island, which is divided into two portions through a joint-use plan and conservation easement signed last spring by Gov. John E. Baldacci.

About 601 acres of the 941-acre island is preserved in perpetuity by way of a conservation easement held and managed through Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

The joint-use plan also allows for the remaining 340 acres to be set aside for potential development of a container port.

Throughout the joint-use planning process, which spanned about five years, those seeking to keep the entire island in its natural state have been at odds with those who support port development on the island.

The division between the two sides was apparent Monday night as panelists discussed — and in some cases, defended — their positions.

Panelists were Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Hancock, Fair Play for Sears Island member Peter Taber of Searsport, former Sears Island Joint Use Planning Committee member Jimmy Freeman of Verona Island, Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Cole and Ron Huber, executive director of Penobscot Bay Watch.

WERU volunteer Gray Parrot moderated.

Damon, who chairs the Legislature's Transportation and Marine Resources Committees, questioned Taber about his characterization of the planning process.

During Taber's opening statements, he referred to a series of public meetings held prior to the formation of the JUPC, when the public largely supported keeping the island undeveloped.

Taber described the process as dishonest, and called out the Maine Sierra Club for changing its position on keeping the island development-free in exchange for a planned education center that he called "eco-world."

Damon called Taber's statements as inflammatory rhetoric, and questioned why Taber chose to see things as he does, even with the potential for conservation and recreational opportunities on the majority of the island.

Taber said Damon need look no further than the planning process, which he said was conceived because MDOT "had bungled this sort of thing in the past."

Taber recalled when the planning process, under the Sears Island Planning Initiative Steering Committee, established so-called affinity groups where those on differing sides could draft visions for the future of the island.

"Those groups were quickly distilled into those who wanted a port and those who agreed that a port might be OK," he said.

Taber, a former newspaper reporter for the now-defunct Waldo Independent, said the process was aimed at keeping the public out. He said he crashed secret meetings at Department of Conservation headquarters that involved the affinity groups, but no one who opposed development on the island was there.

"That's what I mean by dishonesty," Taber said.

Freeman, who like Huber, was instrumental in fighting the development of a cargo port on the island in the 1990s, questioned why Huber did not get involved in the planning process from the beginning.

Huber had bemoaned that the process included potential risks that development might pose to wetlands and other parts of the on-island ecosystem, but not how it might impact Penobscot Bay.

"You had every opportunity to be a part of this process right from the beginning... But you chose to kind of snipe at all the players," said Freeman. "Why did you choose that path instead of just getting involved?"

Huber referred to the fight over the island 15 years before, when Freeman worked with Earth First and "sent Angus King into a tizzy" with his skill as an activist and organizer.

Then he recalled the fight in 2003 and 2004 to keep a liquefied natural gas terminal from being constructed at Sears Island. After a vote from Searsport townspeople indicated they did not support such a development, the governor agreed to back off from those plans.

"When this came up, we thought we didn't have to worry," said Huber, noting Freeman and the Sierra Club were considered part of the resistance. "...Then, it was almost like the Stockholm Syndrome took place."

Huber said after he and other environmentalists trusted the process was in good hands, those in the public with views opposing island development were ignored at subsequent planning meetings.

Huber referred to three lawsuits against the state currently pending in Maine Superior Court that seek to revoke the joint-use plan, in which he is one of three plaintiffs.

Cole, who stated that transportation needs are shifting from trucking to shipping and rail use due to the need for more environmentally friendly options, questioned Taber about his perceptions on how the public feels.

"I don't hear from a lot of other people except for you and your group," said Cole. "... Could you at least conceive the possibility that you might be out of touch?"

Taber said Cole had done "a masterful job at public relations and manipulating the process from the beginning," in that people who turned out to fight for a natural island were excluded from the process.

Taber said they eventually got discouraged and gave up participating.

Taber took issue with the use of the term "compromise" when referring to the consensus agreement and joint-use plan. "You don't compromise with virginity," said Taber. "... I think you may be out of touch."

The audience turned up the heat, particularly on state officials, when it came time to take questions from the steadily growing crowd.

One woman asked Cole if a study was ever conducted that demonstrated a need for a port at the island.

Cole referred to a report completed in early 2008 by The Cornell Group out of Virginia, which indicated there was a market for such a development. He also addressed a question regarding the state's use of $100,000 to pay a consulting firm to market the island to potential port developers.

"We are aggressively marketing Sears Island to see if there is the demand that the Cornell Group said was out there," said Cole.

Cole said that should a port plan become reality, it would be through a public-private partnership, where the developer would be on the hook for design and construction costs.

Others asked what they could do to protest port development on the island.

Cole said if a port is proposed — and he stressed there are currently no plans on the table for Sears Island — it would likely go through a permitting process through the Army Corps of Engineers. That process includes a public comment period.

Jody Spear of Harborside, a neighborhood of Brooksville, criticized the state for its proposal to create a Federal Wetlands Mitigation Bank, where the 601 acres of conserved land at Sears Island would be used as the first deposit.

According to ACE, such land banks are used in other parts of the country if there is potential for wetlands damage during a project. There are several types of "credits" that a developer can withdraw from a mitigation bank to replace the "debits" that occur during construction.

Spear said she saw this as another way the state attempts to circumvent state and federal environmental regulations in the interest of getting a port on the island.

Spear pressed Damon on why hearings have not been held through the Marine Resources Committee regarding potential impacts on the marine habitat should a port come to fruition.

"Perhaps we should have some input on this," said Damon. "... We haven't done that because we're not to a point that we have any type of plan."

Harlan McLaughlin of Searsport and Fair Play for Sears Island revisited the use of the term "compromise" for his question.

"What did you give up?" McLaughlin asked the entire panel.

Damon, who noted the island was purchased by the state for transportation purposes, stated the 601 acres of conserved land constituted a compromise.

Cole agreed.

Taber said the state didn't give up as much as Damon and Cole thought, in that the 601 acres are referred to as "the buffer easement" throughout the conservation easement that is aimed at protecting the space.

"It's a buffer for a port," he said. "... It's a lousy compromise."

Freeman said he gave a little when he allowed for the possibility that a container port might be built on the island down the road, if a build-out at Mack Point is not feasible.

"My compromise was not joining this process from the beginning," said Huber. "Otherwise, I can't compromise anything."

"We compromised on a totally wild island, that's what we gave up," said McLaughlin. 

Sep 15, 2009

Sears Island at the Alamo! Pt 1 & 2

T'was a fine time at the Alamo Theater in Bucksport last night. The Great Game playing out once more.
Both hours roared by; I couldn't believe it when it was noted but a few minutes remained...See photos here.

Here  are my recollections of the first hour: The entryway, where Sally Jones displayed used cores of  rhyolite, which a first nations-er  discarded on the island sometime during the last fifty centuries of the managing of Sears island 's natural resources by the Wabanaki and the red paint Maritime Archaic peoples. She issued Won't clam up! pins and en-coffined mourning-the-island visors to those entering the theater. And held forth to Tanya Mitchell,  reporter from the Belfast newspaper.

Then off  to the cavernous interior, where, on the long table on the raised stage where the five forumistas would sit sat,  two water cups (speaking is thirsty work!) flanked each talker's table microphone.

A biot of sound checkery, and an introduction by Amy Brown. Then an explanation of the forum's process byWERU moderator Gray Parrot: Five minutes for each panelist to lay out their main points, then one question of another panelist by each panelist, then a question by the moderator for all the panelists to answer, then questions from the audience until the end.

Damon started off. He acknowledged multiple valid sides to the controversy, admitted that initially he and his committee had voted unanimously to condition the granting of the easement to a port wannabe  first acquiring port permits. Baldacci convinced him to redo the vote, getting around Public Law 277  by having the Transportation Committee merely assent to a gubernatorial executive order accepting the conservation easement, and not assenting directly  to MDOT's split the island plan; [ Aside: this bit of legerdemain, by the way,angered some of the veteran committee members who were being asked to now vote  unanimously AGAINST what they'd just voted  unanimously FOR, amid heartily confused new legislators in the Transportation committee who complained they were being forced to vote in a rush, on the day this Sears Island thing  landed in their laps, without rknowing hardly any details - and all because Damon had scheduled a bus trip to a fish hatchery for that afternoon!  On little fish, this island's fate keeps pivoting.

In any case, Senator Damon said, the division of Sears Island for port and protected areas was the right thing.

Peter Taber was next He noted his 18 years of journalism in  Waldo County; and his close following of,  and reportage on, Sears Island development schemes by governor's Mckernan, King and Baldacci in his first term.  He detailed at length the overall dishonesty and rigging of the process by each succeeding chief executive's government , the legislature and us congress, industry and NGO's alike.

Jim Freeman followed. He noted his 25 years in Maine, his 15 years of activism around defense of Sears island. He agreed Sears Island was "an incredible place", extolled its fish nursery, noted he'd been involved in protecting ii in the 90's and early '00's, but , fearing the state might sell the island to condominium development, decided that saving part of it by the state giving  MCHT a conservation easement over the east side was better than nothing. And besides there might never be a port on the other side since Mack Point across the bay isn't filled to capacity. Thus he joined the MDOT's Sears Island  Joint Use Planning Committee and went with their flow.

David Cole of Maine DOT described the state's plan for a "trans-shipment" container port, one that could send double stacked containers by rail  from ships docking at Sears Island to depots in the midwestern US  by way of Montreal.  Rail is the "most environmentally friendly"  of all transportation modes anyway, he noted. One-third the carbon footprint.

I was next. I noted that  a "trans-shipment container port" meant that it would not carry Maine-bound goods; those would all continue to come into and around the state by truck or other ports. The transhipment rail line would take  the containers  form the ship and directly through and out of Maine unopened. I also noted that a containerport  is a heavy air polluter: the ships, trains, trucks and cranes all running their petrol-burning engines at once all the time. The upper bay would become an asthma cluster zone in epidemiological studies.  I noted that the island was set up at the interface between river and bay and its location was perfect for growing baby groundfish and other fishes (although the illegally created causeway's lack of culverts has diminished that function and must be pierced).

Then came questions from panelist to panelist:
Damon asked Peter why he was accusative, "inflammatory". Why do you choose to discredit?   Peter replied with a detailed description of the perfidy perpetuated by Cole's agency and by Sierra Club, from SIPI's beginnings to the present. Damon said that the sell-out NGOs reserve the ability to question why 2/3 of the island was conserved.He's not convinced they are all on board. (Cole looked right uncomfortable hearing this this, as he did when Freeman next to him announced his lukewarm support of a port on the island.

Peter asked Damon to explain why he had earlier said that he was not sure of the sincerity of the people that signed onto the agreement; did he still feel that way.

Jim Freeman noted that he and I had worked together for years on  Sears Island. Why, he asked, was I (RH)  "on the outside"  casting  "wild allegations", and not on the inside being a part of JUPC?   I replied that at the startup of the JUPC process I was busy suing Dragon Cement in Thomaston to make them cap their dusty CKD mound; when I saw the Sierra Club and Earth First!er Jim Freeman were on the Sears Island  Joint Use Committee, I thought  the island was safe - these people have never compromised when it came to protecting the entire island from development.

What a shoc, I said,  to find out it wasn't so!  Freeman and Sierra Club had consensed with MDOT against piercing the causeway! Had agreed a port was an "appropriate use" of western Sears Island agreed to triple the amount of acreage given up to industrial development.   And how sad that Mr Freeman  and the Sierra Club would not respond to the public whose interests they were supposedly representing, would not meet with them, would only assure them that everything was fine.

Coleasked his question next.  He claimed overwhelming support for island splitting plan by mainstream enviro groups, by the community of Searsport, by the legislature, by Downeast Magazine, etc, then asked Peter if he would concede that he was maybe "a little out of touch"?

Peter conceded no such thing! and pointed out how the state's process had been manipulated.  How assent for the port plan was either manufactured by MDOT's facilitator eliminating island protectors from the SIPI, or by  officials representing the town of Searsport claiming town support without polling its citizens, by Sierra club, the new version,  likewise not consulting its members before a few leaders gave support ot island splitting. By Senator Damon rushing the governor's/MDOT's plan throughout a bewildered Transportation Committee while keeping it entirely out of the Marine Resources Committee. No real support. Only the appearance of it.

I asked Commissioner Cole why Maine DOT was not going by the requirements of the Maine Sensible Transportation Policy Act (after first describing it and its relevance to the Sears Island planning process) Cole replied that since the matter was under litigation ( by me and two other Mainers) he was not going to answer!  But, he continued, "We don't even have a development yet, let alone a design, let alone a permitting process.  I can assure you that when a port is considered, if and when, that there be extensive public process. All applicable federal and state rules and laws  will be followed." (quote from recording).

End of Part One of my recollections of the meeting. Recordings of the speakers,and the rest of the two hour forum coming up soon. Somewhere in there Cole agrees to hold a hearing in  the marineresrouces committee about Sears Island.

Sears Island Forum yields promise by Senator Damon to convene hearing on fishery impacts,

Bucksport.  At a forum last night  on the future of Sears Island, Senator Dennis Damon (D-Trenton) co-chair of the Maine Legislature's Marine Resources Committee, said if plans for a container port  advance, he will order a hearing on the fish habitat surrounding the upper Penobscot Bay island..

His announcement came after a succession of opponents of a proposed container port plan for the Sears Island near the mouth of Penobscot River  criticised MaineDOT and the Legislature for ignoring the threat a port on the island would pose to the  well-documented groundfish nursery shoals edging the island's west side. The so called Wasumkeag Shoal is brackish and rich with eelgrass and  supplies young cod pollock, haddock and other fish to the greater bay. The shoal would have to be partly dredged away to make room for an industrial port. The need to protect that marine habitat stymied efforts by former Governor Angus King to build a port there.

"Its about time," said Ron Huber of Penobscot Bay Watch, a panelist at the forum, who spoke in defense of the fish nursery at the forum. "Killing off the habitat necessary for baby cod to survive in Penobscot Bay would hold back inshore groundfish recovery for decades. You don't attack the bay's maternity ward"

Damon said that he will convene the hearing  when and if a port plan for Sears Island is applied for. But Huber and other critics of thesears Island port&park plan warned that by waiting until then, would be too late to have an impact on the application process. They urged him to hold a hearing on the role of upper Penobscot Bay's habitat in producing  inshore groundfish as soon as possible, and create protections for it.


Sep 13, 2009

Sears Island: what NMFS said in 1995

From National Marine Fisheries Service "Habitat Happenings" December 1995

Port Facility a Serious Threat to Habitat:
NMFS Recommends Alternative Location
NMFS' Northeast Region reviewed the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for a proposal by tjhe Maine Department of Transportation to construct a new 95 acre port facility on Sears Island in Penobscot Bay, Maine. The project would result in substantial adverse effects to eelgrass beds, tidal flats, shellfish habitat, and freshwater wetlands and wildlife habitat on Maine's largest undeveloped island. Over 200 people attended the recent public hearing for the project, which included about 130 speakers and lasted more than nine hours.

The deputy regional director read a prepared statement at the hearing, saying the Sears Island proposal "would be one of the most damaging coastal development projects to occur in New England since modern environmental standards went into effect in the 1970s."

Habitat Happenings is a monthly summary of projects undertaken by the National Marine Fisheries Service hHabitat Conservation Division.

Sep 10, 2009

Will MDOTset off wild cannibal fish spree in Penobscot Bay?

17,000 to One!
Robert Gregory, director of the Centre of expertise for aquatic habitat research with Fisheries and Oceans, Canada (DFO) says that the removal of eel grass reduces the number of age zero cod by some 80 per cent. And Other Canadian cod researchers put it thus: "Research has concluded the [eelgrass] habitat is an effective refuge from predators, where the 90-day survival rate of juvenile cod in eel grass compared to coarse/barren bottom was 17,000 to 1."

17,000 to One!

For Maine's transportation secretary David Cole , for State Senator Dennis Damon, both of whom surely know better, in company with Sierra Club (Maine Chapter) leaders, to be comfortable with a project that would take away Penobscot Bay's eelgrass and would degrade many acres more....Uh uh!

The wiliest most successful predator of age zero cod - those just out of the egg - are other cod, those a year and more older. Juvenile cod are habitat-limited populations, when insufficient weedy refuge exists for age zero codfish, still clutching their yolk sacs, to hide , they succumb to their hungry elders.

Baldacci's consensus pact w/ MCHT, Sierra Club and the shipping industries would allow mitigation off site , replacement of Sears Island's eelgrass meadows and shoals by wetlands protection or creation elsewhere. . Basically allow payment of a wergild to compensate for killing the nursery shoals off Sears Island. Taking out the eelgrass and kelp mud and cobble habitat structure to pave the way for a container port would set cannibal fish loose in Wasumkeag's maternity ward! Shan't happen!

Sep 3, 2009

Sears Island - dredging of island approaches may rise again

Sometimes it's what they DON'T write that matters.....
In a recent Belfast Republican Journal article: Port funding shift makes waves as state looks to trim budget
Searsport area politicians decry the loss of funding they say was for improving Mack Point: the reporter writes:

"The funding would deepen the channel there to allow the terminal to accommodate larger and more modern ships. It follows the improvement of the pier system at Mack Point. "

Well, that sure omits something...

Using that federal stimulus funding for dredging the approaches to Sears Island was very much on the legislators' and MDOT's minds . You wouldn't know that from the RepJournal story though.

Proof? Listen to a 7 minute audio excerpt from the March 13, 2009 meeting of ME legislature's Transportation Committee. In the recording, Commissioner Cole talks about using $timulus money for dredging near Sears island. Not right up to intertidal, but the approaches to the island - which are fish nursery shoals, too. Below is an excerpt of a transcript from the above recording of the March 13, '09 Transportation Committee hearing. At this point, Commissioner Cole has been describing uses of federal stimulus money around the state:

Cole "Searsport. Currently the Army Corps of Engineers has been doing the engineering on dredging that marine channel. That marine channel serves Mack Point but it also serves Sears Island as well. It's estimated we would need 4 1/2 million to match 16 1/2 million in federal Army Corps investment to dredge that harbor."

"That would dredge it down from 35 to 40 feet at low tide. If you go into Mack Point and Sears Island, both would need that kind of depths to optimize their ability to bring the bigger ships in ."

Representative Hogan. "But if you got an investor for the port wouldn't that be their responsiblity. Or are we talkikng about something different?"

Cole. "This is like a highway its a designated marine channel Typically the expense of dredging that goes with the federal government and the state government."

Senator Damon: "It would also be servicing the existing facility at Mack Point, wouldn't it?"

Cole: "Right. This is the channel. I'm not saying if...... Right on shore, if they need dredging that might be the responsibility of the developer. Dockside. This is the general channel coming in and out."
End of Excerpt

that is the plan. How disappointing that the Republican Journal-ist left the Sears Island part out of her article! Moral of the story - besides don't trust what you read in the papers - is that if we can succeed in keeping that stimulus money up where it's NEEDED in Eastport, it won't be spent in Searsport where it's NOT NEEDED (though wanted). Sears Island will continue to be safe; no developer wants to have to spend millions on dredging - leave that to the taxpayers!

A determined effort by the people of Eastport and Baileyville will keep that money up there, and thus keep Penobscot Bay safe.