Lobstermen Oppose Dredge Spoil Dump
By Anne Porter

SEARSPORTóPlans to dump about 120,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Mack Point dredge project into Penobscot Bay have lobstermen nervous.

About 40 fishermen came to an April 13 hearing held by the Department of Marine Resources to say it was a bad idea.

"Itís a bad place," said Vinalhaven lobsterman Peter Jones. "Personally, I think the oceanís a bad place, but this is an exceptionally bad place."

The Department of Transportation is planning to replace the existing Bangor and Aroostook Railroad pier in Searsport and to dredge around it as part of its ongoing effort to jump start shipping in the state. The department hopes to dredge along the eastern side of the pier to a depth of 37 feet next winter.

"We have to do the one berth or we wonít be able to bring any ships in there," said DOT project manager Paul Pottle. Although ships use the pier now, the plans call for widening the pier, which will change the area the ships use.

Later phases of the project would dredge the eastern side of the adjacent Sprague Terminal, then the western side of both piers, then lower each area to 45 feet.

The department is seeking permission from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Protection to dump the sediment dredged up at a site about three miles east of Rockland in Penobscot Bay.

The site has been used "extensively" since 1959, according to DEP environmental coordinator Brian Swan, who conducted the hearing on behalf of DMR. It is actually being used now to dump about 100,000 cubic yards of spoils from a project in Camden.

The difference now is the magnitude of the proposed projects, according to Vinalhaven Town Manager Sue Lessard.

"The total amount they want to put in there" in the four phases of the project "is almost half of what was put in over the last 43 years at this site," she said. "It took 43 years to put 1 million at that site, and itís going to take three or four years to get almost half a millionóthatís a very different impact."

The location of the site is what has got lobstermen mobilizing to fight back. Scientists working on the Penobscot Bay Project, now in its fourth year, have come to believe that the bay is one of the most active areas of larval settlement in the Gulf of Maine.

"This is ground zero of lobster production," said Bill MacDonald, who coordinates the projects for the Island Institute. "...At least in Portland" where spoils from a large harbor-dredging project were dumped last year "you were outside of a critical habitat area, and there probably was still some impact. Here youíre right in the middle of everything."

David Bligh, a member of the Zone D Lobster Council, pointed out that the areaís 2,000-odd lobstermen had landed 40 percent of Maineís lobsters, worth about $20 million, from Penobscot Bay alone last year.

"I feel dredging certain areas of the coast of Maine is necessary to maintain our infrastructure," said Bligh, "but when 28 percent of Maineís lobster fishermen are catching 40 percent of Maineís lobsters almost within sight of this project, that is not only questionable but in my mind is unreasonable and irresponsible."

To make matters worse, there is a question of contamination in the mud which is to be dumped. Test holes produced "elevated levels" of creosote-based hydrocarbons from the old pilings. Pottle said original plans had called for dredging in the contaminated area, but that the department now plans to put the new pier over the footprint of the old one, so that most of the pilings would not be disturbed. Tests for PCBs and mercury were within the levels required by law, he said.

Lessard pointed out, however, that the departmentís application still asked permission to dump 20,000 cubic yards of contaminated material.

"And although the PCB is listed as undetectable, it is also listed as currently higher than the level already at the Rockland site," she said. "PCB is already an issue in tomalley."

The lobster industry is always vulnerable to public concerns about health, said Leroy Bridges, president of the Downeast Lobstermenís Association.

"Water quality is an absolute necessity," he said. "We have to be able to assure that when our product comes ashore it can be sold and safely consumed."

Creosote is a known carcinogen, according to retired chemist Sid Short of Stockton. He also said that cumulative effect of some 8,000 mg of mercury might be harmful even if the levels in any individual sample were low.

In addition to its effect on humans, fishermen worried about the effect contaminants might have on the lobsters themselves. Bligh said that the widespread lobster die-offs which decimated the industry in Long Island Sound last summer had been blamed by some analysts on years of dumping contaminated debris there.

Lobsterman Dana Barry pointed out that the federal government and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries had imposed sharp cutbacks on Gulf of Maine lobstermen and were pushing for more on the grounds that the stock was threatened. While fishermen were making sacrifices to save it, he said, the government should not be doing anything to make things worse.

Even if the mud proved not to be contaminated, several fishermen said, lobsters could still be buried beneath the sediment.

Pottle said the DOT had no fall-back plan if permission to dump at the Rockland site is denied. He said inland disposal had been investigated, but all the sites considered had their own environmental issues to contend with. The large volume of material involved would also make it prohibitively costly, he said.

DMRís role is only advisory. It will use the testimony from the hearing in deciding how to advise the DOT. The Army Corps also will take comment on the proposal; it is not required to hold a hearing, but may choose to do so. DEP licensing officer Nancy Beardsley said her department would make its decision on a permit soon.



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