Anyone who believes Maine should keep its maritime transportation options open in three key areas — Eastport, Portland and Searsport — should welcome the compromise deal struck on use of state-owned Sears Island. Those who wanted to see the 941-acre island in Searsport turn into a preserve should welcome the permanent protection of 601 acres.
The hard-won compromise plan, hammered out by a 40-plus-member stakeholder group over the last two years, represents “half a loaf” for each of the two previously entrenched sides. That plan was inexplicably rejected by the Legislature’s Transportation Committee late last year. But Gov. John Baldacci submitted an executive order to the committee earlier this month which the committee voted to accept and the governor signed this week.
Like most compromises, the plan is not a slam-dunk win for either side. But by bringing some finality to the 40-year fight over the island at the head of Penobscot Bay, there are winners. They include the town of Searsport and other nearby Waldo County towns, which can begin to market the recreational opportunities the preserved part of the island offers to fill the area’s many bed-and-breakfast inns. The Department of Transportation, which has been unable to market the island as a potential port location for more than 10 years is also a winner. The agreement not only allows DOT to market the island, it encourages such efforts.
Those who worry about the fragility of Maine’s coastal environment can claim victory in the agreement’s provision that calls for fully developing the Mack Point port facility — on the mainland in Searsport — before a new port is sought on the island. And industries that rely on good maritime transportation and those that might benefit from better shipping links have won the promise from several local and regional environmental advocacy groups not to oppose an application to build a port on Sears Island.
The resolution of the long-running debate is not completely steeped in peace and harmony. Some environmental advocates probably are rooting against a port development and believing it will not come to fruition. And some who want to see a port on the island probably will use the preserved portion to make the case for lowering other environmental hurdles.
But unlike the Bible’s Solomon, who threatened to cut a baby in half to satisfy the two who claimed to be its mother, the Sears Island agreement saves both very important components and does so permanently.