June 25, 2018
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Does the midcoast want industrial development?

By Karen Saum, Special to the BDN

When President Jimmy Carter and President Omar Torrijos of Panama signed the Carter-Torrijos Treaty of 1977, Torrijos insisted on including language stipulating that anyone born in Panama is a Panamanian citizen. Suddenly, John McCain became a citizen of Panama, as did I and some 28 of my cousins.

It often felt to me that I had become two people, the one for whom Panama is home and the other for whom Waldo County is home. But recently this dual heritage has come together in one narrative: The consequences in Maine of the new Panama Canal capable of handling super-sized ships and the development in Maine of ports capable of receiving these super post-Panamax megaships.

It is projected that massive post-Panamax ships will account for 62 percent of the world’s total container capacity. These ships require deep-water ports, of which only five are active on the East Coast of the U.S. Other ports, like Miami, are busy dredging, and the Port Authority of New York is raising the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate post-Panamax traffic.

Ironically, there are two such deep-water ports in a part of the United States that is rural and where the citizens want no part of such industrial development. One such port is Eastport, and the other is Searsport.

This is an issue all of Maine faces, but for those of us who live on Penobscot Bay, the question is especially urgent: Do we want to bring to the rural midcoast the sort of industrial development that can be seen, for instance, in Newark, N.J.?

The local resistance to accommodating post-Panamax tankers is called Thanks But No Tanks. The reference is to the proposal by DCP Midstream, a Denver-based company that wants to build a 22.7-million gallon, 14-story liquefied petroleum gas mega-tank and terminal on Mack Point, in Searsport.

Resistance to this development is strong and growing among local people and adjacent towns and islands. I speculate that DCP Midstream has chosen Searsport because it will soon be bringing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in Post-Panamax tankers requiring that rarity, a deep water port.

The bond issue on the November ballot — Question 4 — includes money to dredge the ports of Eastport and Searsport. In the Bangor Daily News on Oct. 25, columnist David Farmer noted that dredging in Searsport is important, as it “should be understood as the port for Bangor and Millinocket, not only for the coastal area.”

A group of concerned citizens met recently in the library of Belfast, a town adjacent to Searsport, to become informed about the legal issues involved in their struggle. The presentation was by The Community Environmental Defense Fund, which has a long history of helping people defend their towns from such threats as fracking and now post-Panamax super ships. What we found out is that, legally, there is not a lot we can do to prevent this development.

Local resistance has begun to think about short- and long-term strategies. Short term is to get people to understand how DCP Midstream post-Panamax super tankers filled with highly explosive LPG will forever alter the quality of life here on Penobscot Bay. Long term will be to learn how to prevent the transformation of rural, scenic Waldo County into an industrialized wasteland that resembles Newark.

Make no mistake, in this contest between the rights of corporations versus the rights of people, the stakes are high. Very high.

Karen Saum lives in Belfast.

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