Dredging of Searsport Harbor would be economic folly

From the Maine Telegram Sept 14, 2013

Opponents of the proposal say plans for dumping dredge spoils would ruin Penobscot Bay’s economy.

JONESPORT — Sen. Susan Collins has observed: “In parts of Maine, the environment is our economy.” No place epitomizes that principle more than Penobscot Bay. The members of the Maine Lobstering Union unanimously oppose the Searsport dredging project, as proposed, because it simply makes no economic sense for Maine.

Contrary to the Aug. 19 Portland Press Herald story by Tom Bell (“Differences run deep over Searsport Harbor dredging plan”), opposition to the proposal to dredge in Searsport is not being led by NIMBYs, descendants of Gilded Age summer folks from Islesboro and environmentalists opposing economic progress.


This fight is about saving the thousands of jobs and prosperity we already have in Penobscot Bay, and this fight is being waged by lobstermen from across the state and midcoast small-business owners who are responsible for bringing billions of dollars annually into the Maine economy – businesses that would be directly and irreparably harmed if this project proceeds as proposed.

These business owners include the 2,100-plus licensed lobstermen from Zones C and D in Penobscot Bay; the owners of Pemaquid Mussel Farm, located just 5,000 feet from the proposed dredge spoils disposal site, which supplies 53 local restaurants with clean, fresh mussels, and flourishing tourism-dependent businesses, including restaurants, hotels and campgrounds.

Lobstermen oppose the proposal to dump any dredge spoils into the fertile lobstering grounds of Penobscot Bay. This area has emerged as one of the most productive lobstering and commercial fishing grounds in the world, and dumping a million cubic yards of dredge spoils into this bay – even clean spoils – would decimate this area for lobstering and other valuable commercial fishing.

A quarter of all lobsters caught in the U.S. are caught in western Penobscot Bay – where the Army Corps of Engineers proposes dumping a million cubic yards of contaminated dredge spoils from Searsport. In 2013, the value of this catch was over $102 million – valued at over half a billion dollars in the Maine economy.

The Corps has acknowledged it would take at least four years for the area affected by this project to “recover and re-colonize” after the dredging and dumping it proposes are done – if the spoils are clean (an estimate that the past teaches is over-optimistic).


However, this damage represents a loss of up to $2 billion from the economy of Maine in just those four years, from just the loss in lobstering revenues – and that’s the Corps’ best-case scenario. No federal dollars would be paid to the displaced lobstermen or to the other businesses adversely affected by the loss of these jobs and revenue and any related lost tourism dollars in the economy.

Lobstermen’s sole concern is not the spread of long-buried legacy mercury from HoltraChem – although that is a concern. If dredging re-suspends buried mercury dumped over 40 years ago by HoltraChem, Penobscot Bay lobsters could be tainted, making them inedible and unmerchantable for years to come. As well, it would irreparably damage the reputation for wholesomeness of the iconic Maine lobster brand, cutting demand for all Maine lobsters – a multibillion-dollar foundation of the Maine economy.

Taxpayers should not be forced to spend over $13 million to expand and dredge the port of Searsport from a depth of 35 to 40 feet, and dump a million cubic yards of dredge spoils into Penobscot Bay, so that an average of seven vessels a year can reduce the time they wait for a high tide to dock at Mack Point by six or fewer hours, saving Sprague Energy and Irving Oil an estimated combined total of $845,000 a year. Using public dollars for such private benefits is a waste of our limited tax resources and is nothing more than corporate welfare.


No mention of the dredge-it-and-they-will-come jobs speculated about in the Aug. 19 article appears anywhere in the Corps’ 2013 environmental assessment. Indeed, the environmental assessment of the proposed Searsport dredging project violates federal law.

It fails to assess the significant impacts on the people, environment and economy of coastal and interior Maine that these reasonably foreseeable and intended significant secondary industrial projects – revealed in the Press Herald coverage and identified by the Corps’ partner, the Maine Department of Transportation – would have.

However, the suggestion that interior Maine can prosper only if the environment and economy of Penobscot Bay are sacrificed through wasteful and unnecessary dredging and dumping contaminated spoils on the fertile lobstering grounds of Penobscot Bay is a false and cynical choice.

With responsible maintenance dredging, after proper sediment testing, the port and both regions can flourish and prosper, while preserving thousands of existing jobs and the environment that is our economy in Penobscot Bay.

— Special to the Telegram