A causeway bends to the right, connecting the mainland to 941-acre Sears Island in Searsport on Penobscot Bay. Credit: GABOR DEGRE

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Joan Saxe and Becky Bartovics are Sierra Club Maine volunteers. Both were members of the Sears Island Planning Initiative and the Joint Use Planning Initiative for Sears Island.

We salute Gov. Janet Mills’ Climate Action Plan to support offshore wind development, promoting a fossil fuel free, renewable energy economy. Gulf of Maine wind resources have a large capacity to meet renewable energy goals, curbing greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring good paying jobs. As the climate crisis builds, Maine must act diligently and urgently.

Although Maine has multiple ports for potential development, Mills directed the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) to study the feasibility of constructing port facilities only in Searsport for offshore wind development. The subsequent Moffatt & Nichol report proposed “a marine terminal on Sears Island as a centralized hub for assembly and launching of floating foundations as well as erection of the WTG  (wind turbine generator) components onto the foundations.”

If Penobscot Bay is appropriate for offshore wind staging, we believe it should be built on Mack Point and not on Sears Island.  

With other New England ports moving quickly on offshore wind, Maine needs to act now, but also recognize full-scale port buildout for the Gulf of Maine will be in phases as the market determines. In March, the Ports Working Group proposed recommendations for offshore wind, requesting more information from East Coast developers on using Maine ports, and asserting the need to analyze multiple ports as the markets progress. Federal funds are available now, which we need to win to expand and upgrade port infrastructure, but the buildout should be focused on existing infrastructure: Mack Point.

Maine’s offshore wind development must follow the policy outlined by the Maine Climate Council and develop renewable energy with minimal disruption to the natural systems. Part of the plan focuses on conservation and enhancement of coastal ecosystems for adaptation and mitigation in keeping with conserving 30 percent of lands and coastal waters by the year 2030, or “30 X 30.”

Penobscot Bay’s Sears Island, is one of the largest undeveloped islands on the East Coast. It harbors a vast network of coastal wetlands, spawning numerous species of amphibians and other important flora. The 601-acre preserve, carved out by the 2007 Joint Use Planning Initiative, and under Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s easement, is managed by Friends of Sears Island and loved by visitors, in-state and out, who have no other opportunity to visit one of Maine’s iconic islands. A haven for migratory birds and waterfowl, Sears Island is surrounded by eelgrass beds, essential habitat for juvenile lobster, flounder, crab, cod etc. Only 15 percent of coastal ecosystems remain nationwide. They are essential carbon sinks and provide important sea level rise mitigation ecosystems as highlighted by Maine Won’t Wait.

By comparison, Mack Point is already developed. It has an essential rail line, shuttered oil tanks, and adjacent available acreage on site and along the rail spur at the former GAC plant. MDOT’s current plan includes barging across Searsport Harbor from Sears Island to Mack Point, increasing fossil fuel usage in the process.

We applaud MDOT’s promise of transparency and public participation in the decision making process, and look forward to the stakeholder process to determine site location of this offshorewind manufacturing and staging facility. We do expect that this process will provide thorough, transparent alternatives analysis, including all assumptions and criteria, and an Environmental Impact Statement of relevant, impacted areas. If Penobscot Bay is appropriate for offshore wind staging, we believe it should be built on Mack Point and not on Sears Island.  The 2007 Sears Island Planning Initiative Consensus Agreement and the subsequent 2009 executive order specified that Searsport build out should preference Mack Point.

Because of its on-going use for port services on existing developed land, Mack Point is a vastly superior location for offshore wind assembly and deployment than Sears Island, which is largely conserved. Additionally, there are no wetlands nor other ecological services located on that property. And, what an opportunity to supplant a fossil fuel facility with one that provides for renewable energy; Maine would be a national leader. Offshore wind should be sited on Mack Point.