Guest column

Swimming upstream

By Susan Lessard | Nov 07, 2018

The town of Bucksport was home to a paper mill for more than 80 years before it closed in 2014 and it was a tannery prior to being a paper mill. In 2016, the town began discussions with Whole Oceans about its desire to locate a land-based aquaculture facility on that industrial site.

Whole Oceans had discussions with state and federal agencies about its plans, and meetings with a host of environmental organizations. They have spent much time seeking to be a good cultural fit here — and to be respectful of the Penobscot River and their potential impact on that resource.

Residents have had the opportunity to learn about this project, and to interact with company representatives about it since the project was announced. It will have less environmental impact than the former Verso mill, has no smokestacks, includes plans for an educational center, and green space available for walking trails. It is environmentally responsible industrial development.

Bucksport has not been sitting, waiting to be fixed or saved since the mill closed. Local government, partner agencies, and many local groups stepped up to work on creating a positive future.

The community recognizes the value of environmentally responsible industrial valuation. Such valuation provides good-paying jobs, stabilizes the local mil rate, and helps the community to maintain and expand its year-round community status. The Whole Oceans facility will put Bucksport on the map as a national leader in addressing food security and trade deficit issues — and it will also provide the opportunity for other local entrepreneurs to open businesses in Bucksport and the region to complement the facility.

Public comment closed Oct. 29 on the Whole Ocean waste discharge permit through Maine DEP. Some comments submitted asked questions I am confident can and will be answered by DEP staff in their response to comments. Others appear to be simply attempts to kill this project and the Nordic Aquafarms project in Belfast.

It is depressing and frustrating that this community, which is working so hard on a bright future, could be held hostage by those with no connection to here, who, armed with little credible information, seek to drive a stake through the heart of an industry that could have so many positive impacts for the future of Maine.

For us, this project is about more than just dollars. We take environmental responsibility seriously here. The town recently completed a $13.4-million secondary sewage treatment plant that added $7.8 million in debt to ratepayers. The town had lost its primary treatment waiver from EPA and could have applied to reinstate the waiver based on the fiscal blow of losing 40 percent of community value and a 25-percent reduction in output — but it did not.

The town has replaced all lighting in town buildings and on the river walk with LED lighting to conserve electricity, added solar panels to the Town Garage and is adding a solar array at the treatment facility to save the town $20,000-plus per year.

The town maintains miles of walking trails, is designated as an AARP Age & Ability Friendly community, and invested in the grass roots Heart & Soul process to better understand what the people of the community want.

Waterfront development and our town marina are key pieces in our future plans. We would not be advocating for a facility that would in any way undermine these critical community assets. Bucksport is an involved and engaged community of people who care about each other, about their environment, and about their future.

Finding industrial development that will fit harmoniously into the new Bucksport is a challenge. The Whole Oceans development is complementary with the location of a world-class. land-based aquaculture facility, on the site where world-class paper was made for generations. We believe that Whole Oceans is a positive part of our future.

Susan Lessard is Bucksport's town manager.

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