AUGUSTA — State officials discussed three viable locations for the state’s proposed deepwater offshore wind port at the Offshore Wind Port Advisory Group meeting in Augusta Sept. 29. Two of the most discussed locations were at Mack Point and Sears Island in Searsport.

Maine Department of Transportation is looking to construct a deepwater offshore wind port to support the future commercial offshore wind industry. The state is looking to compete in the industry on the world stage. To date, there are no ports dedicated solely to constructing, operating and maintaining deepwater offshore wind turbines on the Eastern Seaboard, but this port would provide all of those services.

The state hopes the port will help reach its goal of reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and help bring the state to carbon neutrality by 2045. There are also economic benefits in constructing this port, which will help support the state’s deepwater offshore floating wind turbine research array and commercial endeavors.

The three locations the state is considering are Mack Point and Sears Island in Searsport and Estes Head in Eastport, all of which could accommodate a port big enough to house and produce 20-megawatt wind turbine generator components.

To construct the port, the site needs to have deepwater access of at least 35 feet, and no overhead restrictions like power lines, bridges and other such infrastructure. It would also require 100 acres of contiguous level ground for a cargo staging area with a heavy loading capacity of 3,000 pounds per square foot, and a dedicated wharf frontage with 6,000 pounds per square foot load capacity to accept material, install wind turbine generators and launch foundations, according to Maine Port Authority Executive Director Matthew Burns.

Mack Point option

The 100-acre site at Mack Point fits much of the state’s criteria but would require 950,000 cubic yards of material to be dredged and removed so vessels have sufficiently deep water to access the dock, Burns said at the meeting.

Mack Point offshore wind port proposed site plan. Source: State of Maine

In the past, the lobstering community and conservation groups, which include some of those represented in the advisory group, have opposed and successfully killed dredging plans in Searsport. Their major concern has been possible mercury contaminants resurfacing from the Mallinckrodt facility in Orrington, which dumped waste into the Penobscot River for many years.

That contamination drifted downstream, laying mercury in various locations in the river and bay. Portions of Penobscot Bay are closed to fishing because of that contamination.

The state still needs to gather samples at the Mack Point site to understand the contents of the sea floor and inform engineers about possible construction requirements and costs, Burns said.

Group member and Penobscot Bay and River Pilots Association President David Gelinas is concerned that the depicted orientation of the dock at Mack Point could cause wave issues that might complicate ships moving around the dock at that site.

He described the south, south westerly winds that are typical during summer months at Searsport Harbor as its “Achilles heel.” Wind blows unimpeded up western Penobscot Bay for about 20 miles right up to Mack Point, he said.

With the depicted dock situated east to west, it would place the broad side of big ships against those winds while docking, he said.

Searsport Harbor frequently experiences 4-foot waves on a windy summer day, he said. Those waves will splash against the dock and get reflected out into oncoming waves, he said. When those waves moving in opposite directions merge, it doubles the wave height, creating rough and choppy seas in front of the dock for smaller vessels.

It could create a situation where smaller vessels will decide not to go on the water to work in the area if the wave situation is too intense, which could delay productivity at the port, he said.

It is unclear if the dock at the Mack Point site can be reconfigured to run parallel with the oncoming waves, Burns said. There was some discussion about using the existing dock at Mack Point to accept some materials as a way to mitigate some docking issues caused by the dock configuration at the port, but it would require that dock to be upgraded.

Sears Island option

The 100-acre Sears Island site fits the state’s criteria and does not need to be dredged, according to Burns. There is 40 feet of water depth off the area where the dock would be located.

Sears Island offshore wind port proposed site plan. Source: State of Maine

The state has taken surveys of the sea floor at the Sears Island site to inform construction requirements and costs, but the results of those surveys are still being evaluated, he said.

Gelinas thinks the docking situation at the Sears Island site is better because the waves run parallel to the depicted dock situated north to south, which would allow ships to navigate into the waves better while docking and create better conditions for towing the floating wind turbine units out of the harbor, he said.

Friends of Sears Island Vice President and group member Rolf Olsen gave a virtual tour of the island, displaying a video of various photos and videos compiled to familiarize group members with the island. He also gave a brief overview of its history.

He talked briefly about ecological features of the island, which he said is visited by nearly half of all the bird species recorded in the state. It is a migratory flyover for bird and monarch butterflies. In 2021, 34,000 people visited the island, he said.

He asked group members and state officials to consider the economic value of the island in its current state compared to its economic value if the port is built there, he said. He asked people to think about what might be lost and what might be gained.

There was also some discussion about whether the causeway leading onto the island would have to be widened. Burns said he does not anticipate expanding the causeway if the island is chosen because most of the materials will be delivered by water and the road was built to accommodate rail and truck traffic.

Sears Island, Mack Point combination option

There is an option to use parts of Mack Point and Sears Island for the port. Sears Island would be used as a marshaling and integration facility for wind turbine generators, and Mack Point would be used for fabricating and assembling foundations, according to Burns. However, 710,000 cubic yards of material would need to be dredged from the Mack Point site.

Mack Point and Sears Island dual use offshore wind port proposed site plan. Source: State of Maine

This option seemed to be the least favored among group members. Some felt that having the port at one site would make operations better and leave people opposed to putting it on either site unhappy.

“To me, having that initial facility be in one location I think, as much as it can be, could be really important for, sort of, the flow and activity,” said group member Matt Marks, Associated General Contractors of Maine representative.

“It seems to me that this is, kind of, the worst of both,” group member and Conservation Law Foundation Executive Vice President and Director Sean Mahoney said.

Eastport option

The 100-acre site at Estes Head in Eastport would also require no dredging, Burns said. However, sea floor surveys still need to be done to determine construction requirements and costs. The state would have to demolish the existing pier, displacing current operations at the existing port. If the site were to be shifted to the north, it would probably require dredging and filling.

Estes Head in Eastport offshore wind port proposed site plan. Source: State of Maine

There is also a fish pen in the area that would probably need to be moved, he said. The site is a sloped, rocky area, which would need to be leveled.

A group decision on which site to recommend to the state will come at a later meeting after further discussion and analysis.

There will be another meeting toward the end of the year when group members will further analyze the sites to decide which one it recommends the state use. The group will visit Mack Point, Sears Island and Eastport later this month.

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