US Army Corps of Engineers memo describing meeting with Conservation Law Foundation, SIerra Club and others about 11/13/95 on disputes that feds and eco-groups have with Maine state govt over the Sears Island port proposal.


CENED-OD-R                                         13 November 1995


SUBJECT: Sears Island Project Meeting with Environmental Groups

1. On November 9, 1995 Bill Lawless and Chris Godfrey met in Portsmouth, NH with several environmental groups regarding the Sears Island Cargo Terminal project. A list of attendees is attached.

2. The recent letters from ME DMR and IFW were discussed. The Corps indicated that the Federal Agencies would be responding to the state letters and then the Corps would host a meeting of the technical staff for a discussion of the technical points of disagreement.

3. The Corps stated that the existing proposal (alternative D2.1 (a)) is not permittable. We handed out a copy of the November 7th letter to DOT. Project redesign, however, might drop the impacts below the level of significance. DOT is considering our request but to date has not significantly reduced the impacts, particularly the marine impacts. Our recent letters and memo to the DOT outline 5 points where project redesign and impact reduction are necessary for a federal permit to be issued. The Corps reviewed the original concept presented 2 years ago to former Commissioner Connors and Rob Elder. The Corps stated that this concept was viewed positively by DOT initially.

CLF stated that they might view the project differently if the impacts were greatly reduced. CLF asked if a redesigned project would require a new EIS. The Corps response was that we would not seek a new EIS if the impacts were reduced and the modified proposal was within the overall range of concepts previously analyzed. CLF stated that the main reason DOT won't drop woodchips was because of a concern that the federal agencies would require a new EIS. The Corps stated that from its perspective this is incorrect. In fact, the Corps has recently urged that woodchips be dropped as a way to deal with a number of concerns raised at the public hearing. DOT has been insistent that the capability to move woodchips (now or in the future) must be maintained.

4. The representative from the carpenter's union stated that the AFLCIO recently voted to oppose the project due to the woodchip exports (objections to exporting raw forest products with no value added). These two groups would oppose any port that includes raw woodchips as an export cargo.

5. The environmental groups stated that the Governor has an upper cap of $50 million for the project. The Corps stated that the DSEIS characterized alternatives ranging from $50-70 as practicable, but reserved final judgment for the future. The matter of Mack Point was raised. CLF said that DOT was resisting downsizing because a smaller project may make Mack Point viable. The Corps stated that Mack Point would not be viable unless the existing land owners and the DOT agreed to a joint redevelopment plan which would entail relocation of existing uses. cleanup and rebuilding to current standards. This is beyond the DOT'S capability to accomplish alone. There is no willingness for this kind of joint redevelopment project to date (either by the current land owners or the DOT).

6. CLF and Sierra Club discussed eelgrass values and the Corps stated that we agree with the NMFS assessment. We find no basis for the claims in the DMR letter that the values of eelgrass in Maine should be discounted due to lack of site specific data. We stated that the eelgrass impacts are of great concern, cannot be mitigated, and must be reduced for a permit to issue. The Corps needs to have confidence that the eelgrass impacts, either direct or indirect, will not occur, or be greatly reduced.

7. The Corps stated that the time frame for the permit decision will follow the FEIS in the late spring.

8. According to the carpenter's union representative, the governor's office is seriously reconsidering the project due to the governor's stand on the value added issue, the project costs, etc. The union has asked for a meeting with the Maine congressional delegation because the union believes DOT will ask the delegation to intercede and to have the permit decision made in Washington. The Corps stated this is theoretically possible, but our Washington office has been briefed and agrees with our current position. The benefit to the DOT of getting the decision elevated is questionable.

9. According to the environmental groups, the recent BAR container projections are very unlikely since they rely on diverting cargo now traveling from the mid-west to Halifax, Canada, and this is very unlikely economically. The question about .why the port needs to be so large, particularly in light of the de-emphasis of woodchips was posed. The Corps agreed this is a legitimate question.

10. The Corps stated that the DOT'S unequivocal position has been that the port will not be built on Mack Point. The Corps is asking for a redesign on Sears Island. CLF ^asked if the DOT could sue the Corps if the permit is denied. The Corps stated our belief that the DOT could sue over the denial. CLF stated that the the governor's concern over state expenditures for an umpermittable project raises serious doubt that litigation would happen.

Christine Godfrey Asst. Chief,
Regulatory Division
Operations Directorate