Oyster farm hinders airport safety, manager says

TRENTON — A failure to suspend a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for an aquaculture operation near the end of the county airport runway here would be “a blatant disregard for public safety,” according to Airport Manager Brad Madeira.

Following a recent meeting in Bangor among staff from the offices of Maine’s congressional delegation, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Corps of Engineers, Madeira sent out a lengthy memo to FAA officials pointing to confusion on the part of regulators as to what the permit for Acadia Sea Farms LLC’s oyster growing operation should contain for restrictions. How to enforce provisions concerning the cleaning of nearly 50 acres of cages in Goose Cove so as not to attract seabirds to the facility is not clear, Madeira notes.

“Based on an obvious display of confusion among these agencies surrounding the special conditions required in the ACOE’s permit, which was apparent at yesterday’s meeting, I believe that it is the FAA’s duty and responsibility to contact the ACOE to request that they suspend their permit,” Madeira wrote.

He added more time was needed “in order to clarify the cage cleaning issues and to give the FAA wildlife biologist time to re-evaluate the cage cleaning process in order to properly assess whether this hazard can be mitigated.”

He stated: “I don’t believe that any comprehensive mitigation plan was ever submitted to the FAA back in 2012.”

Madeira noted the FAA originally came out against the project then flip-flopped. Rules require any activity that might attract birds, and thereby increase the chance of collisions with aircraft, be kept at least five miles away. The proposed site is directly under one of the airport’s runway approaches.

“There is simply no reason to allow this activity given the potential safety concerns,” Madeira wrote.

Businessman Warren Pettegrow, who could not be reached for comment, has already secured a lease for some 5,000 floating cages from the Maine Department of Marine Resources to farm oysters in Goose Cove.

Pettegrow filed an application for an aquaculture lease encompassing two 25-acre parcels in February 2010. His plan called for raising as many as 10 million oysters in some 5,000 floating cages. He also has gotten the required federal permit.

Meeting in Ellsworth last Friday, the Hancock County Commissioners voted 3-0 to send a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers asking that the oyster farm permit be suspended and that they ask the FAA to assess the risk to aviation more thoroughly. Airport Manager Madeira is to draft the letter to be signed by the commissioners and officials of the towns of Trenton and Mount Desert.

The objections of several parties and local governments to the aquaculture permit were scheduled to be discussed last Friday, Nov. 6, during the meeting in Ellsworth.

According to oyster farm opponent Bill Stockman of Trenton, the aim of that discussion Friday was to have the commissioners, the airport, the town of Trenton and the town of Mount Desert join forces to urge federal officials to rescind the permit.

Mount Desert is home to many wealthy summer residents who frequently travel to their seasonal homes via private aircraft.

At a meeting of the Mount Desert Selectmen last Monday night, Town Manager Durlin Lunt briefed officials on the meeting in Bangor. According to Lunt, he viewed the original permit approval process as “flawed.” That is because a study done by a College of the Atlantic student about bird activity was not completed until after the public comment period for the state and federal permits had closed.

“There was no opportunity for the public to challenge the mitigation report,” Lunt said. “Everyone followed the rules according to Hoyle, but it was not a really good process.”

Earl Brechlin

Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander editor Earl Brechlin first discovered Mount Desert Island 35 years ago and never left. The author of seven guide and casual history books, he is a Registered Maine Guide and has served as president of the Maine and New England Press Associations. He and his wife live in Bar Harbor.

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