April 18, 2024

Numerous environmental and fisheries organizations oppose the development, while large environmental groups and unions back the governor. The Passamaquoddy oppose, while Penobscot Nation does not support any project at this time, but is critical of the process and lack of information.

A full legislative vote is expected this week.

On Thursday, March 21st the Maine Legislature’s Committee on Environment and Natural Resources voted in support of a bill that would carve out exemptions from existing environmental protections for the industrial development Sears Island/Wahsumkik.

LD 2266 “An Act Regarding Offshore Wind Terminals Located in Coastal Sand Dune Systems” put forth by the Governor’s office five days before its public hearing last week, seeks to specifically exempt a sand dune on Sears Island, in Searsport, from current environmental protections to allow for the advancement of an offshore wind staging development on the island.

Governor Mills announced last month that Sears Island is the state’s “preferred site” for the major development, instead of the already industrialized Mack Point, also in Searsport.

The bill’s passage could set a dangerous precedent for the quick rollback of environmental protections at the behest of industry and the state.

The development of Sears Island (known also by the Penobscot name Wahsumkik)), the largest undeveloped island within the state and one of the largest on the eastern seaboard, has been a lightening rod over the past decades, as the state and prevailing industry have attempted to site a number of projects there and received concerted local push back that stopped development.

On this current attempt, the Governor’s office has gathered a roster of supportive environmental groups eager to be seen making visible strides on climate change, and unions eager for employment opportunities. But opposition to Sears Island development has not dissipated, and has increased in diversity to include both political parties, as well as local and state environmental groups, fisherman and the Passamaquoddy Tribe. Penobscot Nation does not support any project at this time, but is critical of the process and lack of information.

This movement is pushing back on what they see as a false choice on climate change action– alternative energy vs the destruction of forests and critical habitat on the undeveloped island. They challenge the Governor’s conclusion that Sears Island should be chosen over Mack Point.

LD 2266 would allow for the exemption of a coastal sand dune on Sears Island within the proposed wind port from current protection under the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Expressing public support for the bill at the hearing were: The Governor’s Office, The Maine DOT, Maine Labor Climate Council, Maine AFL-CIO, Maine State Camber of Commerce, Maine Peoples Alliance and the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Some expressed openness to locating at Mack Point, if it was considered viable.

Against the development of Sears Island and additionally opposed to the bill that would make changes to the DEP coastal sand dunes protections, include: The Passamaquoddy Tribe, Searsport Representative Reagan Paul, the Alliance for Sears Island, Friends of Sears Island, Isleboro Island Trust, Sierra Club Maine, Preserve Rural Maine, New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association , Upstream Watch, Community Water Justice, Friends of Casco Bay and Casco Bay Keepers and a number of individuals speaking on own behalf. The Penobscot Nation did not give testimony at the hearing but opposes the development at Sears Island/Wassamkeag.

Speaking Neither for nor against were: Maine Conservation Voters and Maine Audubon, who stated they could not support the bill as written, but could potentially with an amendment.

Testimony from the March 18th hearing can be viewed online at

https://legislature.maine.gov/committee/#Committees/ENR

A vote by the full legislature on the the rollback is expected this week.

Sunlight Media Collective will continue to follow this story.

Further coverage can be heard on WERU FM Community Radio on the programs Maine Currents and RadioActive.