A bill to protect the lobster fishery and local coastal economies during dredging of the Penobscot Bay watershed was rejected for the upcoming legislative session, as Republican leaders voted against it on appeal Thursday, Nov. 19.

“The handful of jobs that the dredging project would support are not worth risking the lobster fishery — the only thriving fishery resource that remains in Penobscot Bay and the Gulf of Maine,” said Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, the bill’s sponsor. “We must protect the livelihoods and coastal economies that rely on our lobster fishery by making sure dredging takes place in the most careful manner possible.”

The bill, LR 2281, would have required the Army Corps of Engineers to submit an environmental impact statement for the proposed dredging. It also would have required that any dredging take place in the least environmentally and economically damaging manner possible.

The proposed dredging project would remove nearly 1 million cubic yards of sediment around Mack Point in Searsport and dump it a few miles away in an established lobster breeding habitat. An environmental impact assessment would be able to determine the level of contamination in the dredge spoils.

The town of Islesboro hired analysts to review the dredging who found an alternative approach that would both allow for larger ships to call at Mack Point and pose less of a threat to the lobster fishery.

Opposing the bill were Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport; Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls; Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing; R-Newport; House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport; and Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester.

Voting in favor of the bill were House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick; House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan; Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport; Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland; and Assistant Senate Minority Leader Dawn Hill, D-York.

The party-line vote mirrored the bill’s initial rejection last month.

For the session that begins in January, bills from lawmakers must get the approval of the Legislative Council to advance. A majority vote is needed from the Legislative Council, which is made up of the 10 leaders of the House and Senate.