Jan 31, 2010

Maine Ballast Water Bill surfaces; will big shipping sink it (again)?

LD 1693 adds to Maine water pollution law. It  would  "prohibit ocean-going vessels from discharging ballast water that contains any detectable living organisms into the coastal waters of the State after January 1, 2021"

The bill proposes a two step affair:  Interim standards in effect from January 1, 2011 to January 1, 2021, requiring ocean-going vessels to obtain a permit from Maine DEP to discharge ballast water that contains 

A Any detectable living organisms greater than 50 micrometers in minimum dimension;
B More than 0.01% living organisms that are between 10 and 50 micrometers in minimum dimension;
C For living organisms that are less than 10 micrometers in minimum dimension:
(1) More than 1,000 bacteria per 100 milliliters;
(2) More than 10,000 viruses per 100 milliliters; and
(3) Concentrations of microbes that constitute more than 125 colony-forming units of Escherichia coli per 100 milliliters

After  January 1, 2021, discharges of ballast water from ocean going ships would be outright banned, with a fine of up to $10,000.

A good idea and thus it is unlikely to pass, for reasons lawsuits by corporatings over interference with   interstate and global  commerce. But if it does, then 1: bravo! the state will be gathering data on what's in the ballast water and anchor lockers of ships, a good thing; and 2: MDEP will get a new revenue stream; always a plus in the eyes of the agency.

But the deep pockets they would like to tap by licensing ballast water pollution are deep enough to be unruffled by a  mere $10,000  cost of doing business  fine.   Except inasmuch as the ballast-belching vessel could lose its license to do so in state waters

Again, though, one can't help looking back to the earlier struggle Maine and Washington state lost over requiring tankers to meet state operating standards while in state waters.  The deep pockets of the  shipping industry  won the day in that case 

Jan 30, 2010

Sears Island: Are Legislators paving the way for a port?

UPDATE: A legislator writes that Sears Island did not get  money directed at it at the Friday transportation committee hearing. -RCH

 Money is the mother's milk of politics - even more so after the recent supreme court decision. Sometimes it  flows out of industrialists and other interest groups; other times from the Body Politic. When it comes to Big Transpo, the milk  nourishes builders of ports, rail lines and highways

On Friday January 29, 2010 the Maine Legislature's transportation committee the Maine legislature held a work session on  LD 1639 An Act To Stimulate the Maine Economy and Promote the Development of Maine's Priority Transportation Infrastructure Needs   

The summary reads: "The purpose of this bill is to stimulate the Maine economy by allowing the Department of Transportation to receive and solicit proposals and enter into agreements with private entities for the building, ownership, leasing or financing of certain transportation projects set forth in Maine Public Law 2007 Chapter 470. An Act To Secure Maine's Transportation Future

What are some of those projects set forward in Chapter 470? A laundry list: 
"The department shall consider significant new capacity projects of all modes, which must include at least the following: Aroostook North-South Highway; East-West corridor improvements; Gorham connector; I-295 South Portland to Brunswick capacity improvements; I-295 Brunswick to Gardiner rehabilitation; I-95 Bangor capacity and modernization improvements; Lewiston-Auburn I-95 to downtown connector; Portland to Brunswick passenger rail; the Lewiston-Auburn rail corridor; Sanford connector; Wiscasset bypass; and the department's 3-port strategy including the ports of Eastport, Searsport and Portland."
Stay tuned.

Jan 26, 2010

Maine's 'Offshore Wind Rush' challenged in Maine Superior Court

Bay activist's lawsuit calls for orderly growth of Maine offshore wind energy research and development.
Court asked to temporarily suspend recent decision by state submerged lands chief authorizing wind energy test center off Monhegan.

A Rockland man has filed suit in Knox County Superior Court, seeking suspension of a  December 14th decision by the Bureau of Parks and Lands that designated
two square miles of ocean south of Monhegan as the Maine Offshore Wind Energy Research Center.

Media Coverage: MPBN   &  Herald Gazette

Calling the bureau action "woefully premature" and "part of a Gulf of Maine Wind Rush" fostered by New England's burgeoning ocean wind energy industry, conservation activist Ron Huber has asked the court to rule on whether  two recently passed state laws, 12 MRSA 1868  "Identification of Offshore Wind test areas and  MRSA  35-A, Chapter  34-A: Expedited Permitting of Grid scale Wind Energy Development were followed by Parks & Lands Director Willard Harris when he authorized the test area, one of three in Midcoast and southern Maine waters. The Bureau of Parks and Lands manages submerged lands usage in Maine's territorial sea.

"Maine is wasting a marvelous chance to do ocean energy projects in state waters right the first time. Instead  it is assuring investors their projects will be subject to minimal review." said Huber.  He said that although meaningful rules and regulations for offshore windmill site selection and management don't exist yet, the state is racing ahead anyway to parcel out its portion of the Gulf of Maine.   "I'm awarding the DeepCwind consortium a C-minus," he said.

"We've seen what the Gold Rush did to California's salmon streams. What rushing ahead on bailing out Wall Street has accomplished for our economy. What rushing into the Patriot Act has done to the structure and integrity of our security agencies. Why is the Department of Conservation rushing so blindly  forward on authorizing the  state's ocean wind energy research center off Monhegan?  Do it right!  The wind's not going anywhere."

The State of Maine could thoughtlessly degrade irreplaceable scenic and ecological natural assets of state and national significance there, by fast tracking  offshore wind plan without consulting most Monheganites, without calculating the dollar value of the damage such projects could have on Monhegan's thriving tourism industry. Without calculating, using standard metrics, the visual and sonic impacts windmill operations day and night could have on Monhegan visitors and island residents. On its fish and fishermen. Its lobsters and lobstermen.

"Why is ignorance bliss for the Bureau of Parks and Lands? Our state doesn't need to become part of a Gulf of Maine Wind Rush.   As shown at conference after conference, the industry has shown it has the smarts, the talent and the ability to gain a tremendous amount of environmental and social impact data before, during and after the experimental deployments at the Maine Offshore Energy Test Center.  The Bureau of Parks and lands should make gaining that critical data part of the deal with the University.

Rushing the birds. Huber noted to the court the non-evaluation by the state of the chance, small or large, that  indivduals of the dozens of bird species that visit Monhegan or live there year round will fall prey to a bladestrike. Maine Audubon's Monhegan surveys, and the visits of numerous other birders familiar with Monhegan reveal with great detail how Monhegan and its surrounding waters are the haunts of  Canada Geese, Wood Ducks, Black Ducks, Mallards,Green-winged Teal , Eiders, Scoters, Loons, Shearwaters,  Storm-Petrels, Gannets, Herons, Osprey, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, American Kestrel, Merlins,  Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles. And many others!

Bird strikes WILL happen" Huber said. "Its a fact of life with offshore wind. Maine Department of Conservation should acknowledge this regrettable truth and work to minimize it right from the start. That's what Research and Development means, not only figuring out the best wind blades, but also figuring out the least damaging methods of  using them.

Ditto for the Monhegan Inner Sou' Sou'west Ground, a  rocky three square mile fishing ground in deep waters SSW of Monhegan. The offshore wind R&D center will encompass part of  this  300 foot deep ground which hosts hake and cusk in early spring, cod and pollock from May until July, and halibut in the autumn. 

"The state needs to exhaustively survey the existing state of  Monhegan's deepwater fishery environment, before moving ahead with this necessary exploration of ocean energy extraction."  Huber said. The addition of high relief vertical habitat in the form of floating windmill structures will also attract species not typically seen in the area, to exploit the new habitat.  These non-indigenous organisms may be benign or troublesome to the existing marine fisheries."

"But who's checking?" Huber asked. "Judge Jeffrey Hjelm needs to pull Parks and Lands director Willard's head out of the sand," he said.  "The state must  face the inconvenient truths of ocean wind extraction,that come with the incontrovertible pluses of generating electricity that way.  Willard's December decision is woefully premature."

Rockland resident Ron Huber has acted on behalf of natural Maine since the early 90's. This is his second petition asking Maine Superior Court to turn back agency decisions affecting Penobscot Bay. The first, filed one year ago and still pending, asks the court to overturn Maine DOT's  January 2009 decision to split publically owned Sears Island  in upper Penobscot Bay into an industrial containerport zone and a private conservation easement zone run by Maine Coast Heritage Trust, without following requirements of the Sensible Transportation Policy Act. There is a certain symmetry, he says,  to now trying to protect nature at the opposite end of Penobscot Bay.

Huber admits to a spiritual dimension to his activism.  Describing his efforts as  "faith-based stewardship over the wild places and wild marine life of Penobscot Bay" he informed the court that  his "wild marine congregation of Penobscot Bay organisms" may be at risk from the diversion of hundreds of kilowatts of wind energy from its traditional natural uses in the outer bay marine ecosystem to electricity generation. The ability of the larval young of many members of his flock to carry out the sea surface feeding and respiration necessary to their survival could be badly hampered. 

We must not crucify Penobscot Bay on a Cross of Wind." Huber declared.

Additional Information on offshore wind energy &  Maine state waters Click Here
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Jan 22, 2010

Windiness Jan 2010 at Maine Legislature's Energy Committee

Listen to NRCM, First Wind & others testify to and be questioned on LD 1504 An Act To Require That Expedited Wind Energy Development Projects Provide a Tangible Benefit to Maine Ratepayers in the Form of Discounts to Future Electric Rates by the Legislature's Utilities & Energy Committee.

Senator Mills Chief sponsor. Recording begins, hearing already in progress...
Dave Willby, First Wind
Pete Didisheim, NRCM
Jeremy Payne, Maine Renewable Energy Ass'n
Representative Adams
Representative Russell
Shawn Mahaney, CLF
Dick Davies, PUC Public Advocate
John Cooney, Reed and Reed. R&R's memo on tangible benefits

Question: Should  companies that "take"  the scenic beauty and audio soundscape of our state on behalf of their shareholders be required to provide a special benefit to Maine ratepayers? Industry says: no way!

Jan 10, 2010

Maine lobsters are fat & happy; but lobstermen not so much.

It was the best of times, the worst of times...

The cold economic equations continue to keep Maine lobster price low at the docks and lobstermen's wallets thin  As Maine Lobstermen's Association president Dave Cousens recently was quoted, his industry's  "financial business plan is based on a $4 [per pound] boat price. If we get below $4, it doesn't work...." 
Dave also noted that Maine's wild lobster community was thriving, though he would not say the same for Atlantic herring.
So let's consider this little animal we call "herring" is doing: Like all planktivores, stresses to the plankton , something we 'sapients' witlessly do all the time, there are less plankton eaters like herring. 
And this small fish is the primary food daily set before Maine lobsters in lobster "traps".  Traps? Think of the traps as soup kitchens, and millions of hungry lobsters - All you can eat!! -  filing in and out of millions of traps every day all day for much of the year.   
A  very fattening diet for lobsters to stay on, far divorced from their natural food of worms, plankton, mussels, clams. seaweed, other crustaceans  Herring in traps, regularly replaced, is manna from lobster heaven, raining down  .

But now the servings are about to stop being supersized, because the allowable  2010/2011 herring kill in the Gulf of Maine is being cut down to around 58 million individual herrings,  a way down from the 150 million or so herrings lawfully slain in the Gulf of Maine, in '06. The drop in herring feed will force millions of lobsters to tighten their carapaces and return to the hunting and gathering life.
(Photo courtesy National Geographic)

Jan 9, 2010

Monhegan & the Ivory windTower

Will it be Town vs Gown, there in the chilly waters off Monhegan?

Depending on who you listen to or read, there are many answers to that question.

What's known is:

  * November 7, 2008  Governor Baldacci signed Executive Order 20 FY 08/09, establishing  the Ocean Energy Task Force

* The State Planning Office's Special Projects Offic
implemented. the order and set up the Task Force meetings. 

* The Task Force delivered an 87 page Final Report (pdf)  on strategies to: meet  the goals established in the Maine Wind Energy Act, Title 35-A, section 3404(2)(B) :  install at least 2,000 megawatts of wind capacity by 2015 and at least 3,000 megawatts by 2020, 300 of which could be located in coastal waters.  

* LD  1465 An Act To Facilitate Testing and Demonstration of Renewable Ocean Energy Technology is passed by the Maine Legislature and signed byGovernor Baldacci. It becomes 38 MRSA 480HH  in state law.

* Summer 2009  the U.S. Department of Energy awarded an $8 million grant to  Dr. Habib Dagher and his team at the University of Maine. The team includes more than 30 partners from outside of academia, including private companies interested in offshore wind development. Dagher testifies before Congress  that Maine has the potential to produce about 130 gigawatts of power in deep water — 60 to 900 meters deep — within 50 nautical miles of the coast.

* December 15, 2009 Maine State Planning office designates a 2 and 1/3 square mile area south of Monhegan as the  Maine Offshore Wind Energy Research Center

* University  proposes to install one 100-kilowatt floating wind turbine and one 10-kilowatt floating wind  turbine.  A maximum of two offshore wind turbines is allowed at any given time in the wind energy test area.

* Media Coverage Suzanne Pude, the Island Institute's Wind energy point person  wrote an article recently, detailing the above.  As did Alice McFadden, publisher of the Free Press in "Monhegan Site Chosen as UMaine's Offshore Wind Research Facility"


The Monhegan wind test area lies in deep water tucked between two  important fishing grounds: the  Monhegan Inner Sou'Sou'west Ground and the Monhegan Western Ground. As described in "Fishing Grounds of the Gulf of Maine"   See clickable map here. Monhegan is lowest green spot on map

Monhegan Inner Sou'Sou'west Ground. "This ground takes its name from its bearing, lying SSW from Monhegan Light, distant 5 miles. Its width is 1 1/2 miles, its length NNE and SSW is 1 1/4 miles. It has a sharp, broken, rocky bottom, including a small shoal of 20 fathoms and some hummocks of rather greater depths. The deepest water is in the neighborhood of 50 fathoms. Fishing here is from May until July for codfish and pollock: hake and cusk are in the deep water in the spring months and halibut on the shoal in July and September. This ground is principally fished by trawls, but there is considerable hand lining in September and October. Gillnetting, too, has become more common of later years"

Monhegan Western Ground." This is a somewhat extensive ground lying about 4 1/2 miles WSW from Monhegan Island. The depths range from 22 to 45 fathoms. The bottom is rocky and gravelly and in places much broken. This is a good spring ground for cod and a summer ground for hake and cusk in 40 to 50 fathoms. Pollock are found here in September and October. Its length is 4 or 5 miles, and its greatest breadth is 2 miles on the eastern portion, gradually narrowing westward to about 1 mile. The ground runs SE, and NW. It is fished by hand lines, trawls, and gill nets. Marks: Bring houses on New Harbor over the white cliff on Pemaquid 6 miles from New Harbor."

Coming Up Next Time: What problems could these windmills bring off the mouth of Penobscot Bay?

Jan 4, 2010

Maine Legislature begins - bills affecting the bay

Some of the many bills coming up before the Maine legislature that, if passed, would affect Penobscot Bay. For a larger list click here

LD 1601 An Act To Create the Lincolnville Sewer District
Public Hearing: Jan 14, 2010, 1PM, Rm 211 Cross Building
"Each sanitary district .... shall have the power, within the district, within the territory of any adjoining municipality, and within any adjoining unorganized territory, to lay pipes, drains, sewers and conduits, and to take up, repair and maintain the same or to contract for the same to be done, in, along and through any public or private ways and public grounds, and in, along and through lands of any person or corporation, to and into tidal waters, rivers, watercourses and treatment works..."

Discussion: This should be renamed Lincolnville Sprawl Act of 2010. If passed, the nation's land speculators will pour into Lincolnville, buy land at outrageous prices to raise property taxes high enough to drive out the back to-landers and working folks, buy THEIR land, put up a walmart and the usual junk food palaces, transform farms into subdivisions, and line the town's shore with condominiums - all connected to Camden's sewer & water system.

LD 932 An Act To Establish Area Management of Maine's Scallop Fishery
Public hearing Jan 13, 2010, 12noon Room 214 Cross Building.
: "This bill seeks to establish area management of the State's scallop fishery."
With greatly reduced populations of scallops in state waters - look at the old days - from some combination of  pollution, habitat degradation, fishing and other causes - the Maine gov't now wants to see if the sort of zoning system that was applied to lobstering during Angus King's reign can be applied to scallops as well.   Much skepticism among the fleet; this will bear close attention if it to be done right, or be rejected

 LD 1508 Resolve, Directing the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife To Adopt Rules Clarifying Fish Stocking Decisions    Public Hearing Jan 12, 2010, 0100PMRoom 206 Cross Building  
The bill bids DIFW to create rules "clarifying fish stocking decisions in public waters....the rules must include a definition for "reasonable public access." This would include "an assessment of the availability of publicly owned access points, the availability and suitability of privately owned, publicly accessible points, the resources contributed and responsibilities undertaken by local residents and associations, the threat of invasive species and the reasonableness and effectiveness of citizen-initiated programs to prevent the spread of invasive species, including the availability of boat-washing systems at launch ramps, on-site volunteer monitoring efforts and supervised gate systems."

There will no doubt be many more. Stay tuned.