WERU News Report 6/3/15

Producer/Host: Amy Browne
Engineer: John Greenman

An update on the controversial Searsport Harbor dredging project

The Department of Marine Resources is holding a public hearing next week (Tuesday 6/9/15, 6pm at Searsport District High School) focused on the fisheries impacts of the proposal to dredge nearly a million cubic yards of possibly contaminated silt from Searsport Harbor and dump it elsewhere in Penobscot Bay.

Additionally, attorney Kim Tucker (our guest today) has submitted a formal request for the Board of Environmental Protection to take over jurisdiction on the project. She represents the Maine Lobstering Union; the Lincolnville Lobstermen’s Association (including all licensed lobstermen and their sternmen who fish from Lincolnville, Maine); the Pemaquid Mussel Farm (“PMF”), located off Northport on land leased for cultivation of mussels; the Sierra Club of Maine (“Sierra Club”); the citizens and small business owners from the Searsport area known and incorporated as “Thanks But No Tank” (“TBNT”); as well as Armindy McFadden, co-owner and lease holder of the PMF off Northport, and a seaweed cultivation license holder and harvester off Searsport; and Mike Hutchings, western Penobscot Bay lobsterman, Zone D Lobster Council member from District 10 and the Lincolnville Harbor Master.

The rationale for this Army Corps of Engineers project is that the shipping channel needs to be expanded in order to increase commerce in the area – an assertion that opponents reject.
The location of the proposed dredging is in close proximity to an area that has been closed to lobstering and shell fishing because of mercury contamination, and testing for a nearby private dredging project found levels of heavy metals and other toxins that were several times about the acceptable limits. While proponents of the project claim that their own testing proves that the materials to be dredged are clean, their methods have been called into question by a scientist specializing in this type of testing who did a thorough review of their work.

The projected economic impacts of the project have also been called into question. Those who are promoting the project say increasing the depth of the shipping channel is necessary in order to allow larger commercial vessels to enter the port. They say that increased oil tanker traffic will lead to result in lower energy costs and that increased traffic in general will be a boon to the local economy. But many people who make their living on the bay are skeptical about the projected increase in shipping traffic. They have also expressed fears that the project jeopardizes an already booming local fishery and the tourism industry – all for the benefit of large multinational companies. The estimated $13 million dollar tab for the project would be paid by tax payers.