EASTPORT, Maine — A Maine Department of Environmental Protection spokesman was roundly criticized during a public hearing Wednesday on a tidal power project proposed for Half Moon Cove.
The criticism came during a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hearing at The Boat School’s Marine Trade Center on Wednesday morning on a proposal by Tidewalker Associates of Trescott to construct and operate a $70 million tidal power facility on Half Moon Cove, just south of Pleasant Point. The project would harness the 18-foot tidal ranges to generate electricity by constructing a rock dam with a turbine embedded in it at the entrance of the cove.
Calling the project “highly problematic,” Dana Murch of the DEP said during the session that the DEP was highly unlikely to approve any project that affected the tidal zone. He said the perimeter of the area of the cove that remains permanently underwater at low tide would be increased by 2 to 3 feet if the dam were built.
He also said, “We remain skeptical of the economics of the project. It’s enormous. There are no tidal dams in the U.S. because they are not generally economically viable.”
Leslie Bowman, a co-owner of Tidewalker Associates, took the DEP spokesman to task for addressing economic concerns rather than sticking to the environmental issues he had. She told Murch that his comments put the project in jeopardy.
Bowman said that the DEP was biased and that Murch’s comments could have a negative effect on potential investors.
“This is the problem with these types of projects in Maine,” Bowman said. “This could die in the water with remarks like that. What is the option? Wait for outside interests to determine our destiny?”
Several federal and state permits, including from DEP, will be required before any construction can begin, but FERC approval is expected to come first.
During the meeting Wednesday morning, more than a half-dozen people, most of them state and local officials, quizzed FERC officials and Tidewalker Associates representatives about the project.
FERC officials told Murch that FERC does not take the issue of profitability into consideration when weighing permit approval.
Bowman said Maine environmental regulations are often unrealistic and do not keep pace with current climate issues. They are the reason many cutting edge, green projects fail to come to fruition, she said.
“Where is the compromise?” she asked. “It is important that the DEP look at people as a part of the environment. I certainly hope you don’t keep a closed mind during your permitting process.”
Dr. Normand Laberge, co-owner of Tidewalker Associates of Trescott outlined the project, saying that similar projects are under way or in the planning stages around the world.
Such a project could annually generate 60 million kilowatts of electricity and could drop the current local cost from 22 cents per kilowatt-hour to 7 or 9 cents, he said.
Laberge said this cheap electricity could entice economic development by luring major companies to the area, similar to Backyard Farms in Madison, the country’s largest tomato greenhouse operation, which came to Maine because of Madison’s low electric rates.
It also could reduce the local population’s dependence on expensive heating oil.
“This project should replace 1.5 million gallons of oil a year,” Laberge said. “It’s clean, dependable, compatible with the environment, and will be an economic engine.”
Laberge said the construction of the rock dam would also create a second route connecting Eastport to the mainland.
This idea intrigued Edward Bassett of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, whose tribal lands border the cove. He presented a resolution to FERC stating that the tribe’s position is to open up the cove to its original state and for full or partial removal of the causeways that Route 190 now crosses.
“My father told of going to where the project is planned with a pitchfork and harvesting lobsters by hand,” Bassett said. “It was a lobster breeding ground.”
Bassett said the idea of rerouting Route 190 over the Tidewalker dam would help the tribe convince the Army Corps of Engineers to remove the causeways and build either a bridge or culvert.
“When I first came here today, I thought of the project as a barrier that would create an impoundment, but now I see it would be almost a natural flow of water. I am very encouraged,” Bassett said. “There may be some opening for us to work together.”
Another Half Moon Cove abutter, Robert Peacock, expressed concern that sea urchin and periwinkle harvesting within the cove could be affected because boats larger than 35 feet could not travel freely into the cove once the dam is constructed.
“This needs more research,” he said. “Some people are going to lose their livelihood.”
Laberge pointed out that the dam would change the mode of access to a boat launch facility and would not affect the sea urchin environment.
“This whole area should be transformed into a productive habitat,” he said.
Jim Kardatzke of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs explained that 25 percent of Half Moon Cove’s shoreline is land in trust and needs to be part of any overall economic study.
FERC officials said the permitting process could take up to five years, depending on the scope of studies required.
Residents and interested parties have until July 23 to send written comments on the proposal to FERC. Additional information about the licensing process and the project can be found at www.ferc.gov.