Monday, September 7, 2015

On Penobscot Bay, contamination fears surround port dredging plan

Searsport, Maine's second busiest port, is overdue for maintenance and, its advocates argue, an upgrade, allowing larger vessels to reach the dock, and moderate-sized ones to not have to wait for high tide to enter or leave. But an Army Corps of Engineers plan to do both those things is running into stuff opposition from a wide range of interests on the shores of Penobscot Bay because of how the federal agency has proposed to dispose of the nearly million square yards of dredge spoils that will be produced.

My story in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram explores the issue, focusing on expert assessments of what to do with mercury-contaminated spoils (which the Corps intends to dump in western Penobscot Bay, in conical bottom pockmarks one former Maine State Geologist says are methane vents.) An excerpt:

“If you sat down and tried to find a way to guarantee you would contaminate the entire food web with methyl mercury, they’ve come up with it,” says Kim Ervin Tucker, the Lincolnville attorney representing many of the opponents, including local lobstermen, businesspeople and the Sierra Club. “You can accomplish the project’s goals in a smarter, cheaper way that doesn’t put existing lobstering and tourism and other industries at risk.”
Last week, concerns over mercury contamination in the bay were heightened when a federal judge ordered the owners of the primary culprit, the former HoltraChem plant 20 miles up the Penobscot River, to pay for studies on how to clean up mercury contaminated river bed and estuary areas.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is currently considering whether to grant the project required permits. The head of that department, Patricia Aho, left office Friday, replaced for now by another former Pierce Atwood industrial lobbyist, Avery Day.

[Update, 1920 EST: The Corps, having apparently read this story, withdrew their application today.]

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