US EPA press release (9/29/95) on agency's opposition to Sears Island port.. ----------------------------------------------------------------

United States Environmental Protection Agency
New England Office
Office of External Programs
John F. Kennedy Federal Building
Boston, Massachusetts 02203

EPA Environmental News New England
For more Information call: Betsy Higgins, Office of Environmental Review (617) 565-3422
For immediate release: September 29, 1995 Release #95-9-31

DeVillars Calls Sears Island Impacts Significant;
Says Port as Proposed Won't Fit at Mack Point

BOSTON -- In a joint statement with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) New England Administrator John DeVillars today called the impacts of a proposed port on Sears Island significant and pledged EPA's cooperation in working with the state to attempt to come up with environmental initiatives to offset those impacts. DeVillars also indicated that under existing circumstances, Maine Department of Transportation's (MDOT) proposed port facility will not fit on Mack Point, an existing port facility adjacent to Sears Island.

"Our goal here is to find a way for all parties to reach consensus on an environmentally sustainable project -- one that meets the economic needs of the State of Maine for a mid- coast cargo port without causing irreversible and unacceptable harm to our natural resources," DeVillars said. "Only if informed and reasonable people approach this issue fairly and with open minds do we have any hope of establishing common ground on an environmentally sustainable port project. I pledge EPA's full support in achieving that goal and achieving it in a timely way."

"There is overwhelming testimony that a modern, efficient port facility of the size proposed by the state simply won't fit at Mack Point without substantially compromising the operations of the facilities and businesses currently operating there," DeVillars said.

DeVillars cited MDOT's analysis as well as an EPA consultant's report and numerous discussions with existing Mack Point operators and port facility operators and users elsewhere in New England as the basis for this aspect of his decision.

"From an environmental standpoint, I would like nothing better than to see this facility on Mack Point. But the darn thing simply won't fit there given the current needs of the state and existing Mack Point operators," DeVillars said.

Sears Island Impacts

DeVillars encouraged the state to join EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers in identifying and exploring opportunities for further land and marine resource protection and habitat restoration in Penobscot Bay in order to mitigate adequately the environmental impacts associated with siting a port facility on Sears Island. DeVillars suggested that the effort should involve appropriate state and federal agencies; the environmental community, including the Island Institute, the Penobscot Bay Network, the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and the Conservation Law Foundation; and the marine research community including the Jackson Estuarine Research Center and the Darling Marine Center.

"It will be a difficult task to offset adequately the impacts of the project as proposed," DeVillars added. "It may not be achievable. But it is an effort worth undertaking."

Among the environmental impacts DeVillars found to be most significant based on research by EPA, USF&WS, NMFS, and numerous local environmental organizations were:

• permanent loss of at least 13 acres of highly productive eelgrass beds and an adverse impact on up to an additional 80 to 250 acres of eelgrass. It would be unprecedented in New England history for a project with this degree of marine resource impacts to receive a permit without greater mitigation;

• permanent destruction of roughly 16 acres of intertidal habitat, which support important fish and shellfish;

• disruption of at least 12 acres of subtidal habitat, home to lobsters, crabs and seals; and,

• destruction and loss of function of at least 17 acres of freshwater wetlands, three vernal pools and almost two-thirds of a mile of a stream.

Mack Point as an alternative

DeVillars indicated that he did not subscribe to all the arguments that have been put forth in opposition to Mack Point. "Wood chip contamination and navigation problems, while real, are manageable. Shoehorning this facility into the existing space -- even with substantial marine fill to create more space -- at the present time is not manageable," he said.

DeVillars cautioned against dismissing Mack Point altogether. "If existing users were to change their plans or the Sears Island proposal ultimately proves infeasible for environmental or cost reasons, it will be much to the state's advantage to have kept an open mind on the Mack Point option," he said.

"My gratitude goes out to those who have exercised such good faith and hard work on this project -- most especially Commissioner John Melrose for his willingness to personally engage in a helpful and constructive dialogue with me over the last several months," DeVillars said. "I am grateful as well to the more than fifty individuals from the environmental and business communities, the Searsport area, existing land users at Mack Point, ships' captains, federal resource agency staff and others who have taken the time to meet with me during my review. Our comments are better informed and more precise as a consequence."

DeVillars recorded his agency's position in a comment letter to the port's federal proponent, the Federal Highway Administration, and the agency that will decide on the permit for the port, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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