Sep 18, 2013

Searsport Hbr Dredging: Lobster zone D to partly oppose; DMR to hold public hearing; NMFS writes sternly worded letter to ACOE

Searsport Harbor Dredging Updates
1. Lobster zone D to oppose expansion dredging;
2. DMR to hold public hearing 
3. NMFS writes Army Corps a sternly worded letter

(1) The Zone D Lobster  Council, made up of area lobstermen, does  lobstering oversight of DMR 's ever changing rules regs and laws. Its region stretches from Muscongus Bay around  Penobscot Bay  to Castine.

At the September 17th meeting at the Rockland Ferry Terminal, the Zone D Council heard about problems associated with the dredging proposal from Mike Dassatt of Downeast Lobstermen's Association, Becky Bartovics and Ron Huber. The Council agreed to write a letter opposing expansion dredging, for all the reasons we know of, while supporting the planned maintenance dredging with  precautionary conditions. More about Lobster Zone Councils

(2) DMR's rep at the meeting, Sarah Cotnoir, said she had been told by DMR commissioner Pat Keliher that DMR is going to hold a  public hearing on the Searsport dredge proposal.. NOT a meeting. He is responding to letters he's received requesting the hearing.   

At issue has been DMR's steady insistence during the last  two decades of holding only "public meetings" on dredging proposals. Not public hearings.  Even though state law specifically requires the DMR Commissioner to hold a public hearing if requested by five or more persons......This time, public requests for a public hearing, and the enormous size of the latest dredge proposal, which adds  a 900,000 cubic yard  expansion  to the  40,000 cubic yardstandard maintenance dredging that was planned initially.

3. National Marine Fishery Services says it will take another look.. On August 21st, the National Marine Fisheries Service's New England  Habitat Conservation chief  Lou Chiarella,  wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers that NMFS was reopening its review of the Sears Island project, due to additional information coming to their attention  habitat consultation process. Some highlights from the letter:  (Boldfaced  bits done by Bay Blog for ease of reading)

NMFS: "Unfortunately, we continue to have significant concerns regarding the proposed project's impacts on our trust resources. The information provided in your August 9, 2013 letter, as well as personal communications with your staff indicated the amount of impact to shallow water habitat from the proposed improvement dredging would be much greater than our understanding based upon the information contained within the Environmental Assessment (EA), dated December 2012."

 "Furthermore, because this new information was not available during the EFH consultation, and because the new information would affect the basis of our EFH  conservation recommendation, we are reinitiating a distinct EFH consultation for the proposed project, pursuant to 50 CFR 600.920(1), and providing additional conservation recommendations.

"Based on this new information, we have concluded that the proposed dredging would result in a substantial change in the depth of the area with significant effects on shallow water benthic habitats.."   ".....we have determined that the proposed project would permanently impact winter flounder EFH."..

."In summary, because we received additional information regarding this project that changes the basis for some aspects of our original consultation on May 6,2013, we are reinitiating EFH consultation."
End of excerpts.

A quickly changing situation, bay friends! Stay tuned.

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