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