Boston — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has raised “substantial concerns” and strongly recommends against approval of Maine’s plans for Sears Island., according to correspondence posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At stake is the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) plan to use the East Coast’s largest undeveloped island as a cargo container port while using the rest of the island as a wetlands mitigation bank.
In a March 18, 2009 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is reviewing DOT’s plan, EPA Wetlands and Information Branch Chief Carl DeLoi laid out fundamental obstacles to Maine’s aims –
- The development of the port undercuts any supposed environmental benefits. “The concomitant proposal to reserve 330 acres of the island for potential development as a marine cargo port…creates a high degree of uncertainty regarding the long-term ecological integrity of the proposed compensatory mitigation bank”;
- The port would create a host of negative effects, such as “habitat loss; noise; lighting; air emissions from ships and vehicles; and storm water discharges”; and
- The mitigation bank makes little sense in that it would create less than two acres of restored wetlands.
“Maine DOT’s mitigation bank scheme is a transparently feeble attempt to get the nose of a very large and smelly camel – a container port – under the tent flap,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a lawyer and biologist formerly with EPA’s New England Regional Office. PEER is also urging the Corps to reject the Maine DOT application. “Nothing about this plan protects wetlands. It is merely offers a pretext for destroying what it purports to preserve.”
Part of the concern is that the DOT Prospectus is the first state application in New England seeking to take advantage of a Bush-era federal rule authorizing mitigation banking in which wetlands are destroyed in exchange for preservation of other land or creation of new wetlands elsewhere. In his letter, EPA’s DeLoi alludes to fear that “this Sears Island proposal presents several concerns that make it a difficult choice as New England’s first potential compensatory mitigation bank.”
“Mitigation banking has a horrible track record to begin with, but whatever merit it may have would be obliterated by approval of the approach outlined by Maine DOT,” Bennett added. “The best thing that could happen to Sears Island is that it is left alone.”