Oversight of uses for Sears Island focus of meeting

Posted Oct. 05, 2008, at 9:04 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:03 a.m.

SEARSPORT, Maine — Environmentalist Ron Huber of Rockland said he believes the proposed industrial part of Sears Island should be given the same oversight as the conservation side receives.

For the past 15 months the Joint Use Planning Committee, an initiative established by Gov. John Baldacci, has been reviewing the conservation portion of the 931-acre, uninhabited island.

During the public comment period of Friday’s JUPC meeting at the First Congregational Church on Church Street, Huber of Penobscot Bay Watch proposed establishing a new council to study the effect of a cargo port on the part of the island designated for industrial and transportation use.

“We’ve spent all this time looking at the conservation side, but no time on the transportation side,” he said. “This is supposed to be a committee for joint use.”

The new advisory council would “assist the Maine Department of Transportation in the decision process concerning environmental management activities within the Transportation area,” Huber read from a concept paper he circulated at the meeting.

The new council further could look at policies related to environmental and conservation measures added to the transportation area, and at proposals and plans submitted by would-be developers for that area.

The new entity also could carry out oversight of the discharge permits, licenses for buildings and rail yard operations and look at lease agreements that might ensue, Huber said.

He recommended membership on the council to be from groups and organizations, such as the Conservation Law Foundation, which understands how port development can have a serious environmental impact.

The council wouldn’t have the authority to approve or disapprove, he said.

JUPC facilitator Dianne Smith and committee member Bruce Probert reassured Huber that environmental information gathered already would be available to any board or committee asked to approve industrial permits.

No action was taken on Huber’s proposal.

Sears Island, in upper Penobscot Bay, is owned by the state of Maine and managed under the jurisdiction of the DOT.

If approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on Transportation, the island will be divided into two areas: a 330-acre potential transportation area and a 601-acre conservation area.

The conservation portion will be placed under a perpetual conservation easement and managed for outdoor recreation, education and protection of ecological resources, according to JUPC member Scott Dickerson, who read a concept paper for a conservation area advisory council similar to the one proposed by Huber for the industrial area.

Huber’s proposal comes at a time when the JUPC is winding down 15 months of review. The committee plans to present its final report to the Legislature’s Transportation Committee on Oct. 15 and hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Oct. 29 in Union Hall in Searsport.

For the past two or three decades, a succession of groups has been tasked with determining the future land use of Sears Island. In 2007, the Sears Island Initiative Steering Committee’s Consensus Agreement established that the “appropriate uses for [nearby] Mack Point and Sears Island are compatibly managed marine transportation, recreation, education and conservation.”

Duane Scott of the DOT, presenting an outline of the final report to the committee Friday, called the Consensus Agreement a “guiding light” for everyone involved.

Scott’s outline includes seven recommendations for putting a plan in place: a conservation easement, land use plans with a boundary map, Maine Coast Heritage Trust as the easement holder, appropriate access issues, municipal revenue for the town of Searsport, identification of wetland mitigation options for a potential port, and land management and advisory entities.

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