AUGUSTA — A resolution that would have created a 25-member study group to research how best to balance new coastal development with environmental conservation was shot down by a legislative committee last week after concerns over the resolve’s vague language and strong objections from the aquaculture industry.
“I hear the intention, but we had masses of testimony raising a lot of concerns about the way it was written,” said state Rep. Joyce “Jay” Mccreight (D-Harpswell), a member of the Marine Resources Committee.
The resolution, LD 1211, was put forward by state Rep. Lynne Williams (D-Bar Harbor) to “create multi-municipal communication, conflict resolution and cooperation” around the state’s bays and waterfront and give smaller towns more say over what happens in their region’s waters.
In a hearing earlier in the week, aquaculturists argued that the resolve could hinder the growing industry and add another step in an already glacial permitting process.
While many sea farmers protested the resolve, Williams, who was unable to attend the public hearing because of a recent hospitalization, later told the committee that outcry over a previous plan for a 1,000-foot pier in Bar Harbor was actually the impetus for the resolve, not concerns over aquaculture.
The task force would have looked at models for local representation in regional planning and consider mandating the creation of regional units to oversee bay areas.
The resolve was drafted with the help of the Friends of Frenchman Bay, which wanted to preserve coastal areas and the current aquaculture, fishing and lobster industries, while safeguarding the boating and tourism industry that depends on the water, said Kathleen Rybarz, the group’s president.
For her, the resolution was about sitting everyone “at the dining room table” to talk through and plan for the future.
“It’s about balance,” she testified. “It’s about planning a future in a meaningful way, one step at a time, revising and changing, making a working document that can change and adapt as our world changes.”
The study committee had a varied makeup, though several aquaculture businesses across the state pointed out they lacked any representation.
The proposed makeup was: five legislative members from coastal districts; three marine harvesters; a member each from Casco Bay, Penobscot Bay, Blue Hill Bay, Frenchman Bay and Cobscook Bay; a member of the Department of Marine Resources; three members of marine industries such as shipbuilders, tour boat operators and marinas; five members from coastal conservation organizations; two members from coastal-related research organizations; and a member of Acadia National Park.
Specifically, the group would have to review existing shoreland and coastal laws in states such as California and Rhode Island, review Maine’s current laws, review failures in coastal management and look at types of local and regional units that would watch over the bays.
Not having any sea farmers in the makeup of the group felt like silencing the industry, said Joanna Fogg, the owner of Bar Harbor Oyster. It also seemed like a way to have more outside forces to weigh in on the sector.
“Even if that’s not the intention behind the bill, that’s the impact it will have,” she said. “It means more scrutiny, more meetings, more paperwork, more hoops that we have to jump through in order to simply exist and what we need to do is thrive.”
Many of the sea farmers who attended the hearing also testified against a previous bill, LD 1146, and felt the resolve was a backdoor way to achieve the same goal: enacting more stringent regulations on aquaculture in light of a controversial salmon farm proposal in Frenchman Bay.
Alex de Koning, a Bar Harbor resident and part of Acadia Aquafarms, said he is passionate about conservation, but this resolution was unlikely to add any meaningful environmental protections. Instead, it would provide a new stage for people to try and stop activities they didn’t want to look at.
“Our current regulations, at least in aquaculture, do an amazing job guaranteeing our environment is taken care of,” he said. “That leaves the fact that a subset of people resent the fact their control stops at the boundary of their property, and beyond that they have no more power than any other citizen of the state of Maine.”
Others argued the current leasing process is rigorous, and communities can ask for intervenor status even if the projects aren’t in their jurisdiction.
The Department of Marine Resources was against the bill, saying it wasn’t quite clear what issue the group was trying to resolve.
The resolve did have the support of other local legislators, including Rep. Sarah Pebworth (D-Blue Hill) and Rep. William “Billy Bob” Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) but couldn’t find any votes in the committee, which voted 9-0 “ought not to pass.”