Tank as Tipping Point:  A View from the Bay

By Ray Wirth | Jan 15, 2013
Photo by: Ray Wirth This photo approximates the view of the proposed 137-foot propane tank as it would appear, when viewed from the the area near the mouth of the Little River in Belfast.  The tank is to scale with the existing tanks but would be situated further back from the shoreline.  The blue heron appears as it did in real life.

Belfast — The sparkling, ever-changing waters of Penobscot Bay are a big part of what drew me to the Midcoast. Lots of people can say the same.

My early experiences of the bay were from shore:  Holbrook Island, Fort Point, Sears Island, Moose Point, and the Belfast waterfront all provided unique outlooks on the bay. And then I started kayaking, and new worlds of possibility opened up.

The Muscle Ridge Islands, Sheep, and Monroe, Lime and Lasell, Mark Island and Robinson Rock, Islesboro, Flat, Seal, and Ram, Turtle Head, Sears Island, Butter, Great Spruce, Hardhead, and Eagle -- these are just a few of the places that have become as familiar as good friends.  I feel extremely privileged to have spent the better part or the last fifteen summers paddling -- and leading kayak trips -- along miles and miles of shoreline and out to the no-two-alike islands of our world-renowned Penobscot Bay.

People do come from all over the world to visit our bay.  And, although they take lodging in our towns and spend money in our shops, make no mistake, it is the bay they come for.  They come for its beauty.  The come for its uniqueness.  They come for its quiet.

Water Walker Sea Kayak, LLC is just one among scores of businesses from Port Clyde to Stonington -- kayak outfitters, sailing charters, tour boats, fishing charters, water taxis --  that get people out on the water --- and help keep our hotels and restaurants full.

The way the bay supports our economy can be likened to a three-legged stool.  Recreation is one leg.  Fishing is another.   Both are  highly dependent on the continued health of the bay -- the health of the web of organisms, from sea ducks to seals to starfish, that call the bay their home.

The third leg of the stool, the shipping industry, has thus far been able to coexist remarkably well with recreation and fishing.

At present, the three legs of the stool are in a marvelous but somewhat delicate state of balance.  Leaning on any leg at the expense of the others could tip the balance to the point that life as we know it will go crashing down.

The proposed propane tank in Searsport, the related public safety concerns, the requisite harbor dredging, the introduction of supership traffic to the bay, and the increase of truck traffic to Route 1 -- together these have potential to tip the balance toward industry by irreparably harming both fishing and tourism to the point that those industries all but disappear.

There is lots we don’t know about how the tank would affect Searsport and the Midcoast. There is lots we don’t know about how the tank and its attendant superships would affect other economic activities on the bay.  There is lots we don’t know about how much area property values might decrease.

We do know that ships would be significantly larger than anything that currently visits Searsport -- and that each would arrive with its own moving security zone.  We know that the proposed tank would be significantly larger than the existing tanks at Mack Point.  We know that the tank would be visible, by land and by sea, from hundreds of vantage points for miles and miles away.

For tourists, the way a town presents itself visually makes the difference between whether they stop and visit or drive on by. Searsport can certainly do better than become known as "the town with a tank in it."

We know that in an area where tourism and residential real estate make up a huge portion of the economy, perception IS reality -- and that, if people perceive an area is undesirable because of visual pollution and hazardous materials, well, then, it is.

We know that when they reach Augusta, tourists choose between continuing north via Route 3, Belfast, Searsport, and Bucksport or staying on the interstate until they reach Bangor.

We know that for Penobscot Bay fishermen the line between thriving and not surviving is a fine line indeed.  We know that recreation on the bay has huge yet untapped potential.

We know that the proposed tank will create twelve jobs.  Twelve.  We know that some in Searsport are already trying to sell their houses -- for fear of the tank.  We know that the tank issue has threatened to drive a wedge through that community -- and that saying hello to DCP Midstream will result in saying goodbye to others.

We know that the pristine beauty of our bay is a treasure that will only become a more valuable and more sought after resource as time goes on.  We know we can say, “No,” this once -- and there will be plenty of other, more appropriate and less risky opportunities for economic development in our future.

Comments (6)
Posted by: Barbara Babor | Jan 23, 2013 12:55

Thank you Ray Wirth for writing such a thoughtful article . I have appreciated the magnificent Penobscot Bay for forty years. Besides the enormous negative economic impact of the tank, the saddest thing to me is the beauty and sense of place that will be forever lost.



Posted by: ed Gworek | Jan 21, 2013 21:47

George, as I have previously implied ... you CLEARLY do not have a clue. The last comment you replied to was not even submitted by me. I have to tell you that if you are trying to be a buffoon your efforts are paying off.

Posted by: George W. Smith | Jan 21, 2013 16:10

did anybody ask you to come back ? I think not ed !!!!!!!!

Posted by: Rebekka Freeman | Jan 21, 2013 15:01

Well Said !! Penobscot Bay and It's People, whether Maine-rs or From Aways, Is Too Beautiful To Make Unsafe, Undesirable And, Therefore, Unwelcoming. Imagine Those Who Lose Their Jobs, Their Incomes, Their Homes and Their Hopes In Trade For DCP's Lousy Dozen Jobs !!  Then Add In The Fisherman, Maine-rs for the Most Part, Who Have No Shrimp, No Scallops, No Lobster, No Fish And Have To Not Fish Because LPG Ships And Their Entourage Occupy The Entire Bay !!

Those Of Us Who Have Grown Up On Penobscot Bay, Have Fought For Jobs, Have Gone Without, Have Moved Elsewhere And Come Back, Appreciate The Beauty, The Safety And The Quality Of Lifestyle Right Here In Little Ole' MidCoast Maine ... Right Here On OUR Penobscot Bay !!

Posted by: ed Gworek | Jan 18, 2013 00:38

Hey George,Don't you have a clue! If it wasn't for people "from away" the whole economy of the Penobscot Bay region would plummet. People from away and tourists are the folks that are patronizing all the businesses around here.


Posted by: George W. Smith | Jan 17, 2013 16:07

suck it up,out of stater, go back to the place you came from, bye, bye, bye  !!!!!!!

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