Maine must not cede rights to maritime transit

By John E. BaldacciSpecial to the BDN, Special to the BDN
Posted Oct. 09, 2009, at 6:54 p.m.

There is much that binds Maine and New Brunswick together. We have a long and shared history, common borders and many joint economic opportunities. During my term as governor, I have worked hard to increase cross-border cooperation on a number of issues critical to both sides.

And we have made great progress by recognizing that our region is stronger when New England and eastern Canada are able to work together.

But these strong relations do not guarantee that we will agree on all issues.

Right now, Maine and the United States are in a heated dispute with Canada and New Brunswick over shipping in Passamaquoddy Bay, the St. Croix River and through Head Harbor Passage.

Passamaquoddy Bay and the St. Croix River are boundary waters between the United States and Canada.

According to international law, treaties between the U.S. and Canada and current practice, ships headed to port in Maine have as much right to use the passage as ships headed to Canada. The U.S. State Department has taken a strong and consistent position that all vessels enjoy a nonsuspendable right of innocent passage into and out of Passamaquoddy Bay through Head Harbor Passage. This is guaranteed by the International Law of the Sea Convention.

Canada disagrees and has asserted, without evidence, that the river and bay are “internal” Canadian waters, and commerce there can be controlled and regulated by Ottawa.

In the simplest language possible, that’s wrong.

Ships heading for Maine and the United States and Canada have the right to travel up the river, as they do now.

The issue of right of passage has been tied up with two current proposals to develop liquid natural gas terminals in Maine. Canada, which has an LNG terminal of its own, is attempting to block the developments on our side of the border.

While I support the development of LNG facilities in Maine as long as they meet all environmental and safety requirements and have the support of the host communities, the issues along the St. Croix, Head Harbor Passage and Passamaquoddy Bay go much deeper than these two proposed projects.

Today, Canada and New Brunswick have made the decision that it is in their best interest to attempt to block LNG tankers from reaching port in the United States.

Tomorrow, the decision could be made that other types of commercial traffic should be blocked. As Maine works to develop and grow exports, there is great potential for wood pulp, biofuels, wood chips and any number of other products to be shipped down the St. Croix to markets around the world.

Annually, more than 100 deep draft cargo ships visit the ports of Eastport in the U.S. and Bayside in Canada already, and the U.S. Coast Guard uses the waterway to reach the ocean. If Canada’s claim is left unchallenged, that traffic will also be left to the discretion of Ottawa.

Whether a person supports LNG in Calais or Robbinston, this question is much larger.

It is not appropriate for the Canadian government to hold control over commerce in Maine and the United States.

As to the specifics of the LNG proposals, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a process in place to judge whether the locations are appropriate, and New Brunswick is rightly participating in that process as are supporters and opponents of the developments.

FERC is the best venue for the issue of LNG terminal location to be resolved.

There are legitimate concerns about the projects, and opponents should have the right and the opportunity to be heard. Questions have been raised about the safety of LNG tankers in Head Harbor Passage, Western Passage and Passamaquoddy Bay. According to the United States Coast Guard, which studied the issue, those areas are suitable for tanker traffic. In addition, the communities in Calais and Robbinston have supported the projects.

The proposals deserve a chance to be judged on their merits, not on the disposition of the Canadian government.

I have met with the Obama administration and with the U.S. State Department, and both have reiterated their support for the right of innocent passage through Head Harbor Passage.

Whether LNG terminals are developed in Washington County or not, we cannot cede control of commerce in Maine to another country, no matter how well we are able to cooperate on other issues.

John E. Baldacci is the governor of Maine.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/10/09/opinion/maine-must-not-cede-rights-to-maritime-transit/ printed on November 25, 2014