Action Committee 35 for Penobscot Bay, a Searsport-based citizens group, is urging area residents to attend a meeting in Augusta Thursday, July 16, that will determine whether the Board of Environmental Protection assumes jurisdiction over the dredging project application in Searsport.

 

The BEP meeting will be held in the Department of Public Safety Building at 45 Commerce Drive, Suite 1, beginning at 9 a.m. Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho is expected to address BEP about her views on why this project does not meet the criteria for BEP jurisdiction.

 

As previously reported, the dredging plan, spearheaded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Maine Department of Transportation, calls for removing 920,000 cubic yards of material from the approach to the port and widening the turning basin to accommodate larger cargo ships. The proposal would benefit principally Sprague Energy and Irving Oil but has also received backing from the Penobscot Bay and River Pilots Association and inland commercial groups who hope to see the port expanded for exports.

 

Fishermen, environmental activists and other local interests say the potential risks far outweigh the benefits. Dredging at the scale proposed by Army Corps, they say, could stir up mercury and other toxins from years of unregulated industry around the bay and release naturally occurring pockets of methane beneath the mud, wreaking havoc on the marine ecosystem and commercial fishing industry.

 

For BEP to take jurisdiction over a project as a project of statewide significance, it must meet three of four criteria that specify it:

 

(1) Will have an environmental or economic impact in more than one municipality, territory or county;

 

(2) Involves an activity not previously permitted or licensed in the State;

 

(3) Is likely to come under significant public scrutiny; and

 

(4) Is located in more than one municipality, territory or county.

 

Members of the action committee believe the Searsport dredge proposal meets all four criteria. In a July 13 news release, they called attention to criterion (3) and said “…it is imperative that we have a large turnout of people (in red shirts) making their opposition to this project as proposed very clear.”

 

Attorney Kim Ervin Tucker will make an effort on behalf of the lobstermen to get the BEP to accept additional proof of the impacts before or at that hearing, the news release said, “but the rules are very ambiguous about what they will or won't accept as 'comments.'"

 

In the news release, the action committee called on “everyone to come and if they absolutely can't come, [to] send the BEP a note or letter to be received before [July] 16 explaining why this is a project of statewide significance.

 

Letters can be sent to Board of Environmental Protection, 17 State House Station, 28 Tyson Drive, Augusta, ME 04333-0017, or emailed online at maine.gov/dep/bep/contact.html.