Selectmen debate sending letter to Army Corps
Camden — At the request of Islesboro town officials, Camden selectmen agreed to have Town Manager Patricia Finnigan draft a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers requesting an expanded study of the impacts of dredge from Searsport Harbor on Penobscot Bay.
Selectmen will review the draft letter and approve or deny its sending at the first meeting in January, expected to take place Jan. 7.
Two areas have been proposed for disposal of the dredge — one area between Camden and Rockland near Robinson Rocks and another area between Marshall Cove in Islesboro and Belfast, according to Islesboro Board of Selectmen Chairman Archibald Gillies.
Gillies said he has approached several communities about authoring letters to the Army Corps requesting an Environmental Impact Statement, which is an expanded version of the April 4 Environmental Assessment the Corps issued.
Gillies stressed there is no opposition to maintenance dredging totaling more than 37,000 cubic yards but noted the plan as it stands calls for dredging of 1 million cubic yards. Concerns are centered on ocean life, including lobstering, fishing, swimways for fish, sailing and tourism, he said.
"We're not here to ask you to support or oppose [the project as a whole]. The towns that have sent letters have used neutral language," Gillies said, adding town officials in Islesboro, Rockport, Stockton Springs, Belfast and Searsport have all agreed to draft or send letters.
Responding to a question from Selectman Don White, Islesboro Island Trust Executive Director Steve Miller said the full impacts of the dredge are not yet understood but the planned dredge to deepen the channel near the state pier could have "very significant" impacts of habitat for winter flounder and alewives as well as lobster in both the harbor and dump site.
Selectmen Leonard Looker expressed concern about "the hypocrisy" of Camden dictating where dredge should be deposited when the town harbor was recently dredged and deposited in an unknown location, possibly one of the proposed sites for Searsport dredge.
Gillies noted the reason behind the deeper channel is unclear but Miller noted it has been requested to increase the depth of one channel by 10-feet.
Selectman Jim Heard noted the difference between Searsport — a commercial harbor — and Camden — a recreational harbor — and said toxins in the dredge are unknown. Gillies said an EIS would reveal that type of information.
Selectman John French was the only member to speak in favor of the dredge, citing an increased opportunity for commercial traffic and economic benefit.
"This is one of the few deep harbors we have," he said. "I'm really supportive that the harbor needs to be dredged."
Gillies agreed there could be an argument made for economic development.
There is no start date officials are aware of, Miller said, though the comment period has passed. He said rumor had the dredging beginning in 2014. Funding from the Maine Department of Transportation is already in place, Miller said.
No members of the public weighed in on the topic before selectmen began discussions. Ultimately, selectmen authorized a neutrally-worded draft letter to be considered at the next meeting, with Heard calling sending a letter “a no brainer.” French was the only vote opposed.
Courier Publications Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or by email email@example.com.
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Stephanie has served as editor of Camden Herald since its return in April 2012.
Previously, she was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has worked a number of years in the newspaper business from southern Maine to Waldo County.
Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.
Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and two chickens.
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