March 24, 2018
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Changing the face of Maine environmentalism

By Harlan McLaughlin, Special to the BDN

Per the editorial, “Sinking Sears Island” (BDN, Nov. 26), dishonesty was the compelling reason why the Legislature’s Transportation Committee on Nov. 18 only approved in principle but did not in fact ratify a Baldacci administration-sponsored dual-use plan for the island. Dishonesty not on the part of the politicians, as you might expect, but on the part of some of the island’s so-called environmental defenders such as the executive director of Coastal Mountains Land Trust Scott Dickerson, Maine Sierra Club’s Ken Cline and representatives from Islesboro Islands Trust and Earth First!

Rather than join other environmentalists in being forthright and openly oppose renewed plans for industrialization, this pack signed a document that endorsed as “appropriate” the construction of a sprawling container port across more than a third of Sears Island. We’re talking about what is at present the largest undeveloped island along the U.S. East Coast, a precious property that’s still owned by and available to the public. This behavior hardly bothered the Transportation Committee. What it did was clear evidence these bungling environmentalists thought they could outwit the wolves of port development by signing with their fingers crossed and every intention of going back on their word.

Their plan was to publicly support division of the island into port development and port buffer conservation zones while working behind the scenes to secure the entire island. “EcoWorld,” a multimillion-dollar environmental theme park, was to be the beachhead for ultimate control by private institutional interests of all of this public island. At, you can read and judge for yourself the smoking-gun e-mails on double-cross strategy Cline and Dickerson sent to their supporters.

They planned to outsmart the Department of Transportation. Imagine Barney Fife trying to outsmart Tony Soprano! The DOT knew they were lying publicly — they saw the e-mails too — but DOT didn’t care because it certainly had every hope “a gift” of 601 acres of public land to private Maine Coast Heritage Trust through a conservation easement would ensure long-sought mitigation credits that would finally allow a port to be permitted.

That “vocal” environmental group the BDN editorial refers to may not have had the committee’s ear, but we were the only ones in the room cheering when the decision was announced. The politicians were angry because they realized they were being lied to. And the so-called environmentalists were angry because they got caught. But the supporters of Fair Play For Sears Island came out smiling. And why not? We said from the beginning this was not an honest process and could not possibly produce honest results. That’s the same conclusion the Transportation Committee came to. They must have seen those e-mails.

While we don’t take credit for the decision to delay development of EcoWorld until a port is permitted, early on in the process we did suggest much the same thing. Gov. John Baldacci might try to appease his green cover groups such as the Maine Sierra Club by pushing a bill through the next legislative session demanding immediate construction of EcoWorld, but when the rest of the Legislature reads the e-mails we think they will vote this stupid idea down.

Let’s hope the environmental groups associated with this disgrace, one, apologize to the other 90 percent of us — Maine environmentalists who are honest — for damaging our reputations; two, promise not to do it again; and three, hire some new help. The people of Maine must realize not all environmentalists are dishonest. We believe conserving wild places is in the best interest of the people of Maine but we refuse to resort to deception to make our points.

We won this battle, but at what cost? How much will the inevitable smear of dirty political maneuvers and outright lies hurt future environmental protection efforts? How many people will believe environmentalists can be trusted? We already lost on Plum Creek and if we don’t do something smart soon, we might be burying the entire Maine environmental movement in our coffin, not just Sears Island.

Harlan McLaughlin of Searsport is president of Fair Play For Sears Island.

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