Letters to the Public

GAC’s Colter working behind the scenes to block dredge study

I would like to respond to and amplify on Mr. Tony Kulik’s letter to The Republican Journal on March 20, entitled “Port of Dreams.” He unfortunately left out one of the main beneficiaries of the expansion dredging of Searsport Harbor and its Long Cove: GAC Chemical Corp. A fine company, with a good safety record — though a terrible waste erosion control record. That enormous wart on the company’s nose aside, GAC has been a pillar of the community.

So what is GAC CEO David Colter doing ignoring the wishes of the vast majority of bay towns? They want a serious study done before the megadredge gets approved or not. Instead of reaching out to the communities that surround his company’s acres on the shore of Searsport Harbor, CEO Colter seems to be sneaking about behind the scenes, working with distant investors in Bangor — as their bag man at that.

He’s apparently doing his best to get around the the bay’s town governments and lobstermen and their call for a fair look at the megadredge plan.

Shame on you, David! You know the Bangor Action Committee of 50 (AC50) doesn’t care a fig if every last lobster in the bay turns into a thermometer, every square foot of fisher nursery is dredged away and every last fisherman is forced out of Stockton Springs, Searsport, Castine, Islesboro and Belfast as long as AC50’s members get a big piece of the action doing the Biggah Diggah on the bay.

Why is Colter, Searsport resident, Searsport business owner, upstanding community member, now consorting with those dedicated to reducing the quality of life in and around Searsport and all of Penobscot Bay? It is simple. David Colter, it turns out is the treasurer of a part of the Action Committee of 50, the shadowy industrial investment cheerleader squad which crawls out from under its rock every 15 or 20 years to promote heavy industry in the top of Penobscot Bay.

The estuarine brackish mixing area of river and bay is absolutely the worst place to site chronic polluters, for the tainted waters will not only befoul their immediate environments, the businesses would be perfectly placed to pollute the lower river on incoming tides and pollute the mid and outer bay, during outgoing tides. David you clever fellow, what’s got into you?

We have asked him to clean up the legacy acidic waste that is tainting our intertidal flats, some so acidic according to one of Maine’s leading academic experts on coastal acidification, that every speck of organic matter is dissolved out of it. The pH of that mud ought to be slightly above 7. Instead it is slightly below 2 — hot as battery acid!

Since Maine DEP under Goveror Lepage has sworn enmity against every environmental regulation, and DEP’s minions are so meek to GAC, the company appears to believe it is free to burn the bay shellfish with its acid leaking shoreline with no penalty.

For to the Lepage administraton, precaution is for wimps. If GAC head David Colter insists on both continuing to pollute our bay and to push for increased industrialization of this fertile estuary, then he may be joined at the hip with the governor, but he is no friend of Penobscot Bay. Apparently he is only one more in a long row of short term profiteers sitting atop the toxic peninsula his predecessors ruined, doing his part to keep up with their sordid legacy.

What a disappointment!

Ron Huber

Friends of Penobscot Bay

 

BDN I would like to clarify several errors in Capt. Gelinas’ op-ed. First, I am not an attorney for the Sierra Club. I am an attorney. And I am a member of the Sierra Club. But I am paid by NO ONE for any work I do relating to the proposed dredging in Searsport. I am a resident of Penobscot Bay who is fiercely committed to protecting our lobster fishery in Pen-Bay — which is the foundation of our local economy. Since 2000, when the lobstermen of Pen-Bay first defeated the proposal to deepen the Searsport channel from 35-ft to 37-ft, this proposal has posed a significant threat to the fisheries in Penobscot Bay.

On a pro bono basis (i.e. for free), I have assisted (not represented) many residents, small business owners, lobstemen (including the Zone D Lobster Council), and organizations (including the Sierra Club, Action Committee for Penobscot Bay, and Friends of Penobscot Bay) — all united in their opposition to dumping dredge spoils from Mack Point and the Searsport channel into the fertile lobstering grounds of Penobscot Bay.

Dumping almost a million cubic yards of dredge spoils from Mack Point into the Bay will have devastating impacts on this fishery — even if these spoils were clean. Dumping almost a million cubic yards of dredge spoils from Mack Point into this fishery with the contamination this sediment is known to contain, including: heavy metals (arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, nickel, copper and mercury), PCBs, PAHs, pesticides, and a host of other contaminants that are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins and toxins, will damage both the fishery and the reputation for wholesomeness of our Pen-Bay lobsters and all Maine lobsters.

In 2000, the Corps and DOT proposed dredging this channel from 35-ft to 37-ft — at that time the Corps acknowledged that fully half of the 375,000 cy of material that dredging would generate were deemed “unsuitable for open ocean disposal” (in federal waters) because of the contamination in the Mack Point sediment — but the Corps and DOT intended to dump all of this contaminated material into the Rockland disposal site in State waters. Now they propose to dump almost a million cubic yards of this material into the western Pen-Bay lobstering grounds — in 2 areas that has not had dredge spoils dumped in them in more than 50 years. The Corps has made not effort to study the impact of dumping these spoils on the Maine lobster fishery.

I have no economic interest in this issue. But my family can trace our roots to Pen-Bay back to before 1730, so defending this bay is something I guess that is just in my blood.

This project does not add up — the risks are too great and the benefits too small. You don’t spend more than $13 million in tax dollars so that two private companies (both foreign owned) can pocket and extra $845,000 a year in profits. And you certainly don’t risk the western Pen-Bay lobstering grounds, where more than 30% of all lobster landings in this State have been made since 2000, so that an average of 8 vessels a year, with drafts over 35.2-ft and up to 40-ft, don’t have to wait 12 hours or less for a tide to berth at Mack Point.

Look at the Corp’s own statistics — they are online. Sheet 361 on the website below. Do the math yourself — just like I did. Since 2003 there have only been 82 vessels come to Searsport (an average of 8 a year) that had a draft over 35-ft (an average of 8 vessels a year). Only 1 vessel with a draft over 40-ft used Searsport from 2003 to 2012. (I had to write to the Corps for the unofficial 2012 numbers — but they sent them to me. Anyone can ask and get them. 2003 to 2011 stats are online.

The economic engine in Penobscot Bay is not the port of Searsport. Because it is primarily a port for importing overseas oil, use of this port has declined since 2008 (the Corps did not consider any data after 2008 to justify this project). But post-2008, because of the increased oil and gas production in the U.S. use of this port is declining. According to the Corps’ statistics, from 2003 to 2008 an average of 331 vessels a year landed in Searsport (75.7% of the cargo landed was petroleum products). From 2009 to 2012 (years the Corps did not include in their calculations to justify this proposed dredging), the number of vessel landings was down to an average of 278 a year, and in 2012 was just 176 total vessel landings. So I can see why Capt. Gelinas is trying to find ways to drum up new uses for this port — there is a declining need for his services because oil imports are down and that is what Searsport is historically used for. However, we should not risk the valuable lobster fishery in Pen-Bay or the reputation of the Maine Lobster brand, which are cornerstones of the economy of this region and this State, on the “dredge-it-and-they-will-come” speculation of a few.

I don’t need to be paid to support my friends and neighbors who rely on Penobscot Bay to earn a living fishing. It is the right thing to do. We ALL need to stand up for the lobstermen in Pen-Bay and the State and oppose dredging Searsport channel deeper than the federally authorized depth of 35-ft and oppose dumping any and ALL dredge spoils in our fertile Pen-Bay lobstering grounds.  http://www/navigationdatacenter.us/wcsc/w…   KT Islesboro  2/22/14

Our View: Penobscot mercury scare shows need for regulation  Maine’s natural resource-based businesses won’t succeed without tough enforcement.    2/22/14, PPH

BDN All of the heavy metals and other contaminants listed have been found in the Searsport channel and at the piers (in the December 2013 Sediment test Sprague Energy did and submitted to DEP). The dredging proposal would require sediment from both of these locations to be dredged, and the Corps proposes dumping this sediment into the Bay. The Corps did its sediment test for the channel in May 2008. The results can be found here:
http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/…
The bigger problem with the Corps’ 2008 testing is that it was incomplete and inadequate. Although the dredging they propose to do would require them to remove a minimum of 5-ft of sediment and in some places as much as 10-ft, due to shoaling or because the area to be dredged has never been dredged before, the core samples taken for analysis were not as deep as the depth proposed to be dredged. In some instances the core samples were only 2-ft deep; in no sample was the depth of the core deeper than 7.3 feet. See Table 3 on page 36 of 292 at the site above. In the areas where this material is proposed to be dumped no core sampling was done — grab samples only 6 inches (0.5-ft) deep were taken. In addition, the Corps has never tested this sediment for methyl mercury or dioxins. The Corps only checked for background mercury using a test method that can be interfered with if levels of copper over 10 ug/g are present — and copper above that level is in this sediment — meaning the background mercury levels found may under-estimate the actual level of background mercury.

In other words, the Corps doesn’t even know what all is in the sediment they are proposing to dump in the Bay. This is why core sampling to the full depth proposed to be dredged is required to be done and this material tested for methyl mercury, dioxins and other contaminants, using the test methods the federal court’s experts have determined in May 2009 must be used to get an accurate reading for methyl mercury in Penobscot sediment. Curing these defects in testing is just one reason why the Corps is required to do an Environmental Impact Statement on this project.  KT Islesboro  2/19/14

Balderdash!   There is absolutely no commercial reason to dredge to channel to 40′. Only an average of 8 vessels a year have to wait on the tide in Searsport.    Why does Portland, with 100 times the vessel traffic, only need to dredge to 35′?

If the Bangor Chamber of Commerce and Mr. Porter are serious about promoting the exports of forest products from Searsport would they please pressure Sprague into installing the high speed bulk loaders/unloaders that the taxpayers approved by bond, so that Searsport can compete with Eastport? The current clamshell  and dumptruck method is too slow and expensive to compete and the pellets go to Eastport for export.

Shouldn’t we invest in what works and not threaten our Bay and our premium Lobster brand with a speculative expansion that has no commercial need.

The risk is real. There are poison lobsters and crabs just a few miles away in the next town “upstream” in Stockton Springs. They have closed a sizable area to trapping due to mercury in their meat.  The upper bay is a lobster nursery, they start up here migrate south as they grow and breed. We could poison a generation or two, or more and affect most of the Bay.

It simply isn’t worth the risks.  Maintain the channel at 35′ and leave it at that. Use the money where there is a greater need.

David Italiaander, Village Soup  * Note-David is an International Agricultural Commodities Expert specializing in fats and oils and next generation biofuel feedstocks including purchase and sales negotiations, tanker and dry bulk chartering, international and domestic storage and transportation.

State Legislators Call for EIS, read here: Kumiega Dredging Letter

35-feet is Enough in Searsport

Since 2000, the Maine Department of Transportation and the Corps of Engineers have pushed to deepen the channel to Mack Point in Searsport from the congressionally authorized depth of 35-ft. In 2000, they proposed deepening the channel from 35-feet to 37-ft. This proposal was abandoned because of concerns about the devastating impact of dumping 375,000 cubic yards of dredge material (much of it contaminated) on the lobster fishery in Penobscot Bay. Rather than approving the proposed project, on July 26, 2000, Congress passed a Resolution directing the Corps to do a study to determine if any changes to the channel and turn-around in Searsport were needed.

In 2013, the Corps released a study proposing to deepen the channel from 35-ft to 40-ft, dredging almost a million cubic yards of material and dumping it into Penobscot Bay ­ in the heart of the most productive lobstering grounds in the State. The Corps claimed that deepening the harbor was needed to allow existing vessel traffic with drafts greater than 35-ft and up to 40-ft to use this port without waiting for a tide or “light-loading” cargos.

However, historical data from the Corps’ own Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center demonstrates that deepening the Searsport channel will reduce wait times for an average of only 8 vessels a year. And prior testimony to the Searsport Planning Board in 2013, by dredging proponent Capt. David Gelinas, of the Pen-Bay and River Pilots, confirmed that few vessels using this port come light-loaded because of the depth of the channel; instead vessels come with less than a full load because they drop off a portion of their cargo at earlier ports along an established route (“split discharging”) ­ a practice the Corps acknowledges would continue even if the channel depth is deepened to 40-ft.

Maintenance dredging in Searsport would require the removal, at federal expense, of only 37,100 cy of material. No one opposes maintenance dredging, although how these dredge spoils are disposed of is a major concern. However, the so-called “improvement” dredging project, will have significant adverse regional impacts in Penobscot Bay. The greatest of these adverse impacts will be borne by the lobstermen of Zones C and D, who make more than 46% of all annual lobster landings in Maine. The value of the Zones C and D catch in 2012 (the last year complete statistics are available) was more than $157 million at the dock. The value to the Maine economy from tourism, restaurant sales, processed food sales, marine equipment sales and tax revenues, is exponentially higher.

The proposed dumping of a million cubic yards of Mack Point dredge spoils – much of which contain dangerous contaminants and heavy metals (including mercury, lead, and arsenic) – could devastate the lobster industry in Pen-Bay and the State of Maine. If the contamination and volume of dredge spoils do not destroy the Pen-Bay lobster fishery outright, dumping those contaminated spoils could do irreparable harm to the reputation for wholesomeness of Pen-Bay lobsters and, thus, to the iconic “Maine Lobster” brand statewide and worldwide.

The Searsport dredging proposal would cost State and federal taxpayers at least $13 million. According to the Corps, the intended beneficiaries of this expenditure are the “shippers” — Sprague Energy and Irving Oil, both foreign- owned oil companies. The only benefit identified by the Corps for this $13+ million tax expenditure is to reduce the time that ships with drafts more than 35.2-feet and up to 40-feet have to wait for a tide to berth at Mack Point. The maximum wait for the 10-ft tide in Searsport is 12 hours. The Corps claims that Sprague and Irving will save $845,000 a year if the channel is deepened to 40-feet. However, the Corps’ own records confirm that between 2003 (when DOT deepened the pier area at Mack Point) and 2012, only 82 ships meeting the criteria of a draft of 35-feet to 40-feet have used the port of Searsport (an average of 8 per year).

Compare this with Portland Harbor, Maine’s largest port. While an average of 290 vessels landings were made annually in Searsport (8 of those by vessels with drafts >35-ft), from 2008 to 2012; during this same period, an average of about 19,500 vessel landings were made annually in Portland, with an average of 186 vessels having drafts >35-ft (See tables below).

Yet the Corps has determined that 35-ft is the appropriate depth to maintain the channel in the Portland Harbor and is currently preparing to do a maintenance dredge of 700,000 cubic yards of material to restore Portland’s channel depth to 35-ft. If 35-ft is enough for the busy industrial Portland Harbor channel, why is 40-ft (the same depth as Boston Harbor) required in Searsport, which has, annually, less than 2% of the total vessel landings, and about 4% of the deep- draft landings that Portland has?

Forget public health, forget the environment, this proposal simply makes no sense just based on the math. Mainers need to tell DOT and the Corps that 35 feet is deep enough in Searsport.  

Kim Ervin Tucker is a year-round resident of Maine, with her home on Islesboro, in Penobscot Bay. She was formerly Deputy General Counsel to the Florida Attorney General’s Office and is currently a Special Assistant Attorney General for the State of Mississippi on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Ms. Tucker represented Thanks But No Tank and the Islesboro Islands Trust in opposing the construction of a 22.7 million gallon propane tank and terminal at Mack Point ­ a project that the Searsport Planning Board denied permits for in April of 2013, based on safety and other concerns. Ms. Tucker is assisting the Zone D Lobster Council and the Sierra Club of Maine, on a pro bono basis, in opposing any action that would result in dumping Mack Point dredge spoils in to the environmentally important and economically valuable lobstering grounds of Penobscot Bay.

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