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Sears Island Accord Closer
Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - Bangor Daily News
SEARSPORT - A plan for Sears Island that both preservationists and port proponents can endorse is close at hand, but important details remained elusive at a meeting Tuesday of the committee charged with crafting the recommendations.
Under the guidance of the Department of Conservation, the 42-member committee worked through a draft consensus document but stumbled over some key points. The group was charged by Gov. John Baldacci to finish its work by the end of the year, but that now seems unlikely.
Karin Tilberg, deputy conservation commissioner, who will leave that post in mid-January to work as a senior policy adviser to Baldacci, pledged to continue working with the committee through the early part of 2007.
Two groups have emerged within the group, one working to preserve the state-owned, 941-acre island in Searsport, the other working to retain the possibility of building a container port on a part of the island.
Despite suspicions and strongly held convictions on both sides, the groups have agreed in principle on a plan that would allow a cargo port to be built on the island if increased shipping needs cannot be met on nearby Mack Point on the mainland. A key sticking point emerging Tuesday is how much land would be set aside for a port.
The pro-port group has said it is impossible to set an acreage limit until a port is designed with a specific use in mind. But the pro-port group generally accepted a 241-acre limit in the northwest corner of the island, leaving 700 acres as a buffer.
Preservationists, however, want to see 800 acres set aside through an easement. That portion of the island would be used for light recreational activities such as hiking, paddle boating and bird-watching. Trails, interpretive kiosks, a hand-carry boat ramp and restroom facilities would be built.
The two camps also disagreed on when an education center would be built on the island, with the port proponents arguing for waiting until after a port proposal wins the necessary permits.
Port supporters objected to a proposal by the preservationist group to have the Department of Conservation manage the island. And the preservationists expressed concern that the so-called buffer easement that would be established on the undeveloped portion of the island not be seen as mitigation for a port, but rather as land set aside for recreation.
Former Transportation Commissioner John Melrose, speaking for the port proponents, said he worried the proposed language in the draft consensus document might raise the bar for a would-be port development effort.
Speaking for the preservationist group, Scott Dickerson, executive director of Coastal Mountains Land Trust, countered that his group did not want the agreement to lower the regulatory bar.
Tilberg suggested each group continue to use small delegations to negotiate the finer points of the consensus agreement in the coming weeks. The full committee is expected to meet again in the new year.
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