People in Washington County gather to decry the fairness of Maine’s business regulations

Posted Oct. 08, 2010, at 7:11 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — Some of the state’s laws and regulations, as well as its interpretation of them and its licensing processes, are harming Washington County’s farmers, fishermen and businesses, residents testified Thursday before the Maine Regulatory Fairness Board.

From the licensing of liquefied natural gas terminals to the oversight of seaweed harvesting and food handling, Maine’s regulatory processes are in some cases hampering development, hindering growth and impeding progress, the board was told.

The Maine Regulatory Fairness Board, a state advisory board, will review the testimony and report to the Maine Legislature and governor, making recommendations for changes in either state law or policy if it believes any are warranted.

During testimony Thursday, some Washington County residents pleaded with state regulators to help protect their very livelihoods.

“It is terrifying to see what is happening to this state’s sea, woods and earth,” Board member Linda Snyder of Auburn said after several hours of testimony. “Somebody needs to sit up and take notice.”

One person disillusioned with the state’s licensing process was Linda Godfrey, who represented Save Passamaquoddy Bay and The Three Nation Alliance, which includes members from Maine, Canada and the Passamaquoddy Tribe. She is also a multiple-business owner in Eastport.

Godfrey outlined the 6-year-long process for three developers attempting to obtain state and federal permits to locate liquefied natural gas terminals in Washington County.

Godfrey stressed that she was not going to discuss the pros and cons of LNG and facilities, but was dismayed that the state process for reviewing such applications was flawed and appears to favor the developers rather than the people and communities that would be affected.

Godfrey said that the three LNG developers — one has withdrawn, one remains in the federal permitting process and one is active in the state process — have spent a combined $67 million attempting to locate a facility on Passamaquoddy Bay.

For safety and other considerations, Save Passamaquoddy Bay maintains that no facility should be built on the bay.

Godfrey said that the permitting process is complex and unwieldy and that developers are often going through state and federal processes simultaneously. Those permitting processes should be conducted separately, she said, with the state process coming first.

Godfrey said no one on the state level vets the developers and that should happen.

She also said that leadership on the state level is not conducive to a smooth process, and that the recommendations of a Brookings Institute Quality of Place study should be written into state policies and processes. She also said the state should adopt international siting standards for LNG facilities and should establish an office of environmental justice to deal with disputes and complaints.

She said the state Board of Environmental Protection, which oversees the permitting process, should remain intact, but that once a developer has proposed an application, all board members should participate in all proceedings. She also said a member of one of the Native Tribes should be on the BEP board.

“The process should be more important than the substance,” she said. “These changes could make a major difference.”

Cheryl Wixson, representing the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said that the Maine Department of Agriculture’s interpretation of some federal food processing and handling rules is harming Maine’s small farms.

Wixson said legislation drafted at the national level is designed for large-scale commercial farms and doesn’t take into consideration Maine’s small-scale farming environment. Yet the regulations are being interpreted by Maine’s officials in a way that is actually a barrier to increased local food production and marketing.

Recently, she said, the Maine Department of Agriculture also reinterpreted an existing state law that required changes for slaughtering and processing birds. Many farms chose to opt out because of the high cost of the changes, Wixson said.

“This eliminated markets, not increased them,” she said.

She said state agriculture officials need to stop re-interpreting federal regulations and be aware how those interpretations are harming Maine’s food system.

“I have watched a perfectly good food system in Maine dismantled and replaced by industrial agriculture,” she said. “We need to rebuild this local food system, and we need the Maine Department of Agriculture as an advocate and not as an adversary.”

Also addressing the board were Sheila and Michael Dassatt of the Downeast Lobstermen’s Association; Julie Keene and Robin Hadlock-Seeley of Pembroke representing the Rockweed Coalition; Kenneth Ross of Ross Cottage in Pembroke; Dennis Bryant of Acadian Sea Plants at Pembroke and William Look of Look’s Lobster in Jonesport.

Sheila Dassatt raised concerns regarding regulations governing lobster licensing and gear requirements. She said many fishermen themselves do not understand some of the state requirements, causing compliance problems.

“Fishermen’s access to the water has become a bitter battle,” Dassatt said and asked that the state help Maine’s fishermen rather than simply parroting federal decisions.

Keene said that Washington County is a unique fishing environment that needs a unique fisheries management plan.

She asked, “Who is regulating the bays? These bays support life here.” She asked for a whole bay management group that consists of local people, harvesters and marine scientists.

“Washington County is just too far from Augusta,” she said. “The local people have to be part of the solution and have a voice in the way our resources are managed.”

Keene suggested setting up sites in either Calais or Machias that would allow Washington County residents to testify on issues in Augusta via teleconferencing technology.

There were several people who also spoke out about either the lack of or too stringent regulations to the rockweed harvesting industry.

Hadlock-Seeley said the state has said it does not know if the rockweed harvest is sustainable or not, yet continues to allow both hand and mechanical harvesting. She said the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ own regulations are not being enforced and said DMR appears to have a lack of interest in the seaweed industry.

Representatives from Acadian Seaplant, which is a Canadian rockweed harvester with an office in Maine, did not make any suggestions for changing any Maine regulations, but rather simply defended its business practices.

Also attending the hearing were state Rep. David Burns and several candidates for the state Legislature.

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