Members of the public had the chance in Belfast Tuesday to sound off about the plan to dredge Searsport Harbor.
“We’ve done an environmental assessment of the dredging project, and we’ve done many different studies and tests on material to be dredged on the site that we’ll be placing material. We’ve also looked at the type of species that live in the area and would be avoided in the dredging during the winter months,” said Barbara Blumeris, Study Manager for the Army Corps of Engineers.
That information from the Army Corps of Engineers wasn’t good enough for some residents, who worry about environmental impacts from dredging Searsport Harbor.
“Nobody really knows what they’re going to be dredging today, because they’re not doing an EIS, an environmental impact statement study. So nobody really knows what’s down there,” said Belfast resident Tony Kurik.
But proponents of the dredging say doing an EIS would be both costly and unnecessary.
“That’s like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. In reality, it can be worked through the existing environmental process. Everybody wants the standards to be met. Work with the fishermen to ensure their livelihoods aren’t impacted, but the reality is that among dredging projects, this is a relatively small one,” said David Cole, a consultant with the Action Committee of 50.
Some locals are concerned not only about the impact of the dredging itself, but of the disposal of dredged materials into Penobscot Bay.
“With it being already contaminated, it could spread and destroy the lobster industry. The product, shell disease. Who’s going to want to buy a lobster that’s been contaminated?” said Rock Alley, President of the Maine Lobstering Union.
But study managers say that shouldn’t be an issue.
“This material was tested and it was found to be suitable, both for a location in Penobscot Bay as well as out further towards the mouth at the Rockland disposal site,” said Steven Wolf, the Army Corps’ Program Manager for Disposal and Monitoring Systems.
Many concerned residents say some dredging is acceptable, but deepening the entire harbor from 35 to 40 feet is overkill.
“We want Searsport to succeed as a port. Everybody here wants Searsport to succeed as a port. But a 35-foot maintenance dredging was good enough last year, I’m not sure why it’s not good enough this year,” said Belfast resident Ann Tucker.
The next step for the Army Corps is to apply for water quality certification for the dredging project.
That process will take place later this spring.