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Saturday, October 02, 2010

From Penobscot Bay Blog...

Ron Huber has reported recently on the Sears Island court case HERE and HERE (latest, posted yesterday). It's complicated, but in essence Huber is challenging the constitutionality of the tandem moves made by the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Legislature Committee on Transportation in promoting and approving the "split" of Sears Island into conservation and sacrifice zones.

Sacrifice, that is, for a container port for which the state has been unable to discern any interest in the private sector. Arrrrrrrg.

Previous posts:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A reader kindly left this in the comments below a recent post:
I mainly got in touch to share another sad message -- Commissioner Cole held a breakfast this morning ( June 23, 2010 )at the Sea Dog with the Bangor Chamber of Commerce to discuss -- the CONTAINER PORT ON SEARS ISLAND ! Now that the Transportation Bond passed, the State (MDOT) will soon own the rail connection to Mack Point, and I think a new marketing campaign is about to begin. The pressure's on to turn this part of Maine into a major shipping corridor ...questions remain. Will the Army Corps accept their most recent UMBT proposal? How many times are they allowed to rewrite it -- until it passes ? They're just about to re-dredge Searsport Harbor -- are they going to use that as part of their campaign ? And when all is said and done, will they attract an investor ? Will they talk the State govt. into funding this everlasting 3-port vision? And what the blazes will they be shipping overseas and into the U.S. ? Will we be getting stuff from China that will end up at Marden's ? Liquid Natural Gas ? Will we be sending out wind turbine parts, Blueberry juice and wood products ? The Sears Island port idea isn't over -- someone needs to tell Steve Miller of Islesboro Islands Trust that his article in the Free Press (12/17/2009) which optimistically projected zero marine industry interest, is not the final word. The MDOT is still interested, the Transportation Committee is still interested, and Gov. Baldacci is still involved -- they're painting gold leaf on their rail and port "vision" as we speak. Sears Island is still in danger -- and the MDOT didn't even pay for the breakfast at the Sea Dog !
There was a business story in the BDN today, HERE. Previous posts:

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Fucking BP fucking failed fucking proper fucking booming:

This about says it all:
It is not bright bright orange or yellow so you can see it, dear fledgling boomer, but so Governors, Senators, Presidents and The Media can see it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thirty years ago today

USGS video

In my memory, the sequence of events was (1) finished my stat. mech. final; (2) my undergraduate career was over; (3) Mount Saint Helens blew up. Seems like yesterday.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Update on March 4 story

This very quiet item is just reaching the Maine Owl news desk now:

State selects California firm to market Sears Island
By Tanya Mitchell | The Republican Journal Reporter
AUGUSTA (July 22): Moffatt & Nichol, a company based in Long Beach, Calif., was selected over four other contenders for the right to market some 300 acres on Sears Island for potential port development.

Maine Port Authority Executive Director John Henshaw said the firm stood out over the other applicants because of the depth of its experience with transportation-related developments, including port development planning. MPA signed a contract with the company June 1.

"I anticipate that they will be issuing requests for expressions of interest throughout the port development industry, probably through August," said Henshaw.

That, said Henshaw, will help the state determine what kind of interest there is in developing a port on the island, as well as what the current needs of the marine transportation industry are, given the state of the economy.

Henshaw said that along with offering basic information about the island, such as the rail and nearby road infrastructure that exists at the site now, the early stages of the marketing process should result in potential investors telling the state what is possible.

"That will tell us what ultimately ought to be built there and when," he said.
I suppose I should read Village Soup more often. It's always possible I missed it, but as far as I can tell the award of this contract eluded the Bangor Daily News, even though they did have a story on the $100,000 appropriation back in March.

I stand by my original commentary. The fact that the port development enthusiasts in the Baldacci administration even need to learn the first basics about "what kind of interest there is in developing a port on the island" from a California firm ought to tell us something about the nature of this boondoggle.

And, please, don't tell me that this development would fall under "economic stimulus" and receive a load of federal dollars. That kind of funding could divorce the boondoggle from reality more than it already is.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

BDN story takes jaundiced view of the listing

Weather vane at Veazie Salmon Club
Weather vane at the Veazie Salmon Club

Salmon scorecard for 2009 at the Veazie Dam

The Bangor Daily News has THIS story today:

Will the salmon clubs survive?
Seasoned anglers say federal endangered status for species is a "kick in the teeth" and could spell the end of a storied Maine pastime
By John Holyoke | BDN Staff
In the days before the scheduled opening day of this year's month-long catch-and-release salmon season on the Penobscot River, Douglas "Cap" Introne and his 14-year-old son, Christopher, made plans to spend as much time as possible on the river. Then everything changed. The Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission changed tack in response to a meeting between federal officials and Gov. John Baldacci. The season was scuttled. There would be no fishing.

"When [Christopher] learned that he couldn't go fishing this year, he started to cry" ...
On Monday, the federal government decided to list wild Atlantic salmon as endangered in the Penobscot, Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers while designating a large swath of nearby rivers and lakes as critical habitat. This is described in the BDN article as "another blow" to salmon anglers.

The article goes on to quote a number of people who are upset, and some, including Governor Baldacci, provided the (evidently rejected) reasonable alternative of merely listing the salmon as threatened.

I do think I understand the feelings of many people who will be shut out of a traditional recreational activity for a long time. These views are very important to the story. However I think commentators who argue against the value of scientific study and science-based policy-making (see the comments below the article), or those who feel that because many salmon currently are hatchery-raised the fishery is somehow "artificial," are barking up the wrong tree. What they say may contain truth, but without science and hatcheries, "natural," fishable salmon runs never will be restored like everyone wants.

These comments both within the main story and many of those from the general public below do not represent the full range of information necessary to understand the story. The article itself almost lacks entirely the crucial perspective of proponents of the listing and it contains no explanation at all of the motivation behind the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration deciding at this time to apply the strongest protection available under the Endangered Species Act. THIS press release from an organization that promotes this listing action may help:

Endangered Atlantic Salmon Earn Expanded Protection in Maine, Receive 12,000 River Miles of Critical Habitat
RICHMOND, Vt.? Responding to lawsuits filed in 2007 and 2008 by the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups, the National Marine Fisheries Service has protected Atlantic salmon in three additional river systems in Maine under the Endangered Species Act, including the Penobscot, Kennebec, and Androscoggin rivers, and designated about 12,000 miles of rivers and estuaries, as well as 300 square miles of lakes, as critical habitat.

"Maine's wild salmon deserve a fighting chance, and now they have it," said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate for the Center. "Dams, pollution, water withdrawals, and other threats must be curbed or stopped if Atlantic salmon are to have a future in Maine."

Atlantic salmon populations have declined dramatically throughout most of their range along the eastern seaboard and in the rivers they return to for spawning. Dams, overfishing, degradation of river habitat, introduction of nonnative fish species, and water diversions have all taken a heavy toll.

Designation of critical habitat is a key component of protecting and recovering endangered species, and is required by law. In 2000, salmon in several smaller rivers in eastern Maine were listed as endangered, but the government failed to designate federally protected habitat. The Center and the Conservation Law Foundation filed suit in 2007. In May of 2008, the Center, along with Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and activist Douglas Watts, filed suit to expand salmon protection to include Maine's most significant rivers. The Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a preliminary decision on both critical habitat and listing expansion in September of last year. This week's action finalizes the initial proposal made last fall.

Conservationists are celebrating the new legal protections for the imperiled fish, but point to a significant shortcoming in the critical habitat designation. Only currently occupied habitat is protected at this time.

"The point of federal protection is to recover species," states Matteson. "The salmon is in grave danger of extinction, in part, because of its severely and artificially limited range. It makes no logical sense to say we will only protect its present range. Its historic habitats must be protected, too, if recovery is ever to become reality."
I visit the Veazie Salmon Club many times each week as an appreciative neighbor. I do not fish for salmon, though I do some lake fishing. I suppose without a local tradition of salmon fishing, this marvelous little spot on the river would not be there like it is.

I'll leave this discussion with a plea for everyone to look at the big picture: the changes in the habitat over the last two centuries are utterly profound. This is a clash between industrial society and the environmental conditions the salmon population needs to survive and build. Since the dams first went up, the salmon basically are the losers. Change in their favor will take a long, long time and will require a lot of different communities, stakeholders, government entities--including sport fishers--to understand this big picture and pull in the same direction.

In that sense, I think that this is a positive story. Government policy and money is essential to survival of the habitat and hence the salmon. I'm certainly no Republican, but I think the Penobscot restoration and Forest Legacy project is something that really happened right during the Bush years. But seeing the results? That will be very, very long term. I hope the Salmon Clubs can evolve and survive in the meantime.

Related archive posts:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I had no idea that there was a coastal property (in Harpswell) that actually is part of Baxter State Park.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Maine Owl Monitoring Program

Giving a hoot about owls
Unity College, MIT partner in monitoring project
By Sharon Kiley Mack | BDN Staff | Monday April 6, 2009
...The citizen-science project ? a marriage of engineering and biology ? is in its seventh year and provides vital data such as owl numbers, owl health and population trends to the Maine Audubon Society and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

MIT uses the project to refine communication technology, according to professor Dale Joachim.

"Counting owls is politically and business-oriented, and there is a lot of money involved," Joachim said. In states with large logging industries, such as Maine, California and Oregon, loggers must monitor and count owls since some of them are protected species. "They are paying biologists to go into the woods and count," Joachim said. "MIT is refining the technology that can call the owls, record their answers and extrapolate the data from those recordings."

Projects such as Unity's this weekend will allow MIT to "build a tapestry that can be studied over a period of time."


Central Maine has a larger than average owl population ? 12 varieties of owls live in Maine ? and that is why the study is centered there.
The story also quotes my sometimes colleague David Potter at Unity College (I work there part-time occasionally). I should probably say the Maine Owl Monitoring Program has no relationship with this blog.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Red River at Grand Forks, ND 4-1-2009
Red River at Grand Forks, ND yesterday
Interesting photo series

The photos come from a camera at "Grand Forks Gage." The page referenced (click the image) at the USGS North Dakota Water Science Center site contains links to a great deal of additional current and historical information about flooding along the Red River on the Minnesota-North Dakota border. Included is a time series of photos showing the river coming up over the last couple of weeks. Amazing.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

4:00 am, thirty years ago today

The Progressive June 1979 cover
Early sample of alternative media from the Maine Owl library

In March 1979 I was a student in electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota. I was working a co-op job in the electric utility industry programming big mainframe computers to display information on and control power grids. I loved wires and currents. I hated the industry.

Then Three Mile Island happened. It soured my taste for what I was doing there. Later, I would end up in Maine working on a graduate degree in physics while sniffing around the countryside for extremely low-level environmental radioactivity. (There is extremely low-level human-produced radioactivity present almost everywhere, along with much stronger natural radioactivity.)

I still object to the use of nuclear power. This is not because I think reactor meltdowns are likely or widely-distributed low-level radioactivity is super dangerous. It is not, at least not compared to a lot of other things. It's rather because of the un-democratic exercise of unaccountable government and corporate power and dominating wealth that the nuclear industry represents.

The story of what happened in Harrisburg, PA thirty years ago gives us important lessons about our over-reliance on arrogant scientific/technical decision-making processes that still harms our society. This comment is not made while failing to place risk in perspective. I'm not saying nuclear power plants cannot be operated somewhat safely. I'm just saying that we should not allow is trusting the vested corporate power structure to make all of our energy decisions. Inevitably if we do, they'll be bad ones.

Dr. Arjun Makhijani of has the perspective that I prefer: we can have a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy system in fifty years if we start making the right decisions now. (Dr. Makhijani spoke in Maine in 2007, see HERE.) He's been posting recently that some of these bad decisions to resume building nukes are today on the table, ending the de facto thirty-year post-TMI moratorium.
Dr. Arjun Makhijani: Eight new nuclear reactors are being proposed in Texas alone. The two near Amarillo, in the panhandle, will consume 60 million gallons of water every day?more than what the entire city uses. The company proposing the plant has said there is a lake there in an unidentified location that will supply the water. In Idaho, the CEO of Alternate Energy Holdings, which wants to build a power plant there, implies that nuclear power will cost only 1 to 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, because capital cost is borne by the investors, as if Wall Street were a kind of charity for electricity consumers.
Despite government attempts to grease the skids on these things, Dr. Makhijani writes that some localities are finding it "unwise and imprudent" to pursue nukes "because of insufficient time to examine the paperwork and the risk of cost overruns and delays." That's hopeful.

The main lesson of Three Mile Island is that depending technical systems is very unwise when the risk of failure is so catastrophic. There are many parallels for our own time. Below I reproduce many illustrative details of those events of so long ago from one of the best accessible articles ever written on the subject. These authors captured my young conscience at the time. It's worth looking back at an extended excerpt...

Corporate Meltdown
The Lessons of Three Mile Island
by Bill Keisling and Ed Perrone | The Progressive, June 1979
... At four o'clock in the morning on March 28, 1979, the loud whistle of highly pressurized steam escaped the confines of Three Mile Island's Unit 2 nuclear power plant. The noise gushed into the darkness. Some nearby residents would later tell reporters that the sound had been loud enough to wake them from sleep. But others, less noted by the press, said they heard nothing, continued to sleep, unaware of the drama that was about to engulf them.

The men in the control room of Unit 2, working Three Mile Island's graveyard shift, heard the sudden escape of steam. They knew what it meant. The plant's generating turbine had for some reason shut down. This caused the shutdown of the secondary feedwater system, which carries heat away from the radioactive primary cooling system by way of two large steam generators. Within seconds, the nuclear core's primary cooling system overheated. Responding to the resulting sudden pressure increase, a relief valve on the pressurizer of the reactor?s primary cooling system opened, venting the excess steam, relieving the pressure. This was the sound some people heard in the night.

At the same time, the computer monitoring Unit 2's operations automatically directed the reactor's control rods to descend around the cylinders of uranium pellets, halting nuclear fission, shutting off the reactor.

Within thirty seconds, the computer's logic circuits turned on the auxiliary feed-water system to cool the steam generators, since the main feedwater system had shut down with the turbines. What the computer didn't know was that the auxiliary feedwater system had been shut off at valves between the auxiliary pumps and the steam generators. One emergency cooling system was useless. The computer, programmed to assume the valves were open, began to lose control of the nuclear power plant. ...

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Gail's hand came up dripping with black, sickening goo."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Example of the size of these things:

Wind turbine transportation
Wind machine parts on the move in Minnesota last summer

Multiple loads of giant wind machine parts for Maine projects will be taken off of ocean transport at Mack Point in Searsport and then trucked to Kibby Mountain in western Maine after a difficult route through Belfast. A Republican Journal story today says the "Wind turbines may pass Belfast by night." Details are given on how the loads will be transported.

My question: If Mack Point is good enough for giant loads of wind machine parts, why disrupt Sears Island with a port boondoggle? (Related item HERE.)

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Beware in Bangor City Forest!

Attack owls are

All they're doing is protecting their nests. Steven Colbert needs NOT to do a story.

"Lisa J. Kane, natural sciences editor for the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, says great horned owls (above) tend to be aggressive in March because they are Maine's earliest nesting birds." -- From the Bangor Daily News 3/7/09

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

State to spend $100,000 on "marketing" to "find" somebody to develop and run a container port

Mack Point sunset, Searsport, Maine
Mack Point: Already-industrial site not good enough?

I've never understood why the development-minded authorities in Maine government have insisted that Sears Island is just the place for a nuclear power plant / coal power plant / liquefied natural gas terminal / container port.

The last item is the current plan, heavily promoted and in the process of being greased by Governor Baldacci and a variety of officials. There are serious legal questions about how they are operating, raised by activist Ron Huber in a lawsuit described HERE.

Here are my observations on the subject, for what they're worth.
  • The port would be a boondoggle that no one will be interested in without being "sold" through this crazy taxpayer-funded marketing campaign, my guess designed to dangle all sorts of taxpayer-funded enticements before potential developers.
  • As a large, undeveloped island--a very rare thing to have right along the coast, the highest and best use of the entirety of Sears Island is a park preserved in its natural state.
  • The state could use the conserved site to help promote the incredible tourism opportunities and the small businesses that serve visitors.
  • The state should focus its port efforts on cleaning up and developing the perfectly good facilities at Mack Point. The port potential there almost certainly encompasses the maximum possible for the area.

I'm sure someone has a reason why Mack Point sucks as a port. Go ahead, talk me down...

Monday, February 16, 2009

George Will is at it again, waving his shallow understanding of the history of the development of climate science in order to pound politically President Obama's Energy Secretary, Dr. Steven Chu, and others who would argue that action must be taken globally to reduce fossil fuel burning.

Dark Green Doomsayers
By George F. Will
Washington Post - Sunday, February 15, 2009 - Page B07
... Others anticipated "a full-blown 10,000-year ice age" involving "extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation" (Science News, March 1, 1975, and Science magazine, Dec. 10, 1976, respectively). The "continued rapid cooling of the Earth" (Global Ecology, 1971) meant that "a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery" (International Wildlife, July 1975). "The world's climatologists are agreed" that we must "prepare for the next ice age" (Science Digest, February 1973). Because of "ominous signs" that "the Earth's climate seems to be cooling down," meteorologists were "almost unanimous" that "the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century," perhaps triggering catastrophic famines (Newsweek cover story, "The Cooling World," April 28, 1975)
Will scarcely comprehends the context of the state of knowledge about climate change during past decades. Spencer Weart's "History of Global Warming" could be helpful. In a nutshell: There has been a massive paradigm shift since the 1970s with respect to understanding rapid climate change. Major discoveries were made in climate history during the 80s and 90s showing just how fast global-scale changes can occur. Furthermore, consensus on the likely direction of rapid change has developed since then--consensus that did not exist when those 70s articles appeared, as a decent reading of the better articles Will himself cites would reveal.

Others have listed the many errors in Will's climate-related statements. However, no one seems to be dealing with this:
Will: Speaking of experts, in 1980 Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford scientist and environmental Cassandra who predicted calamitous food shortages by 1990, accepted a bet with economist Julian Simon. When Ehrlich predicted the imminent exhaustion of many nonrenewable natural resources, Simon challenged him: Pick a "basket" of any five such commodities, and I will wager that in a decade the price of the basket will decline, indicating decreased scarcity. Ehrlich picked five metals -- chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten -- that he predicted would become more expensive. Not only did the price of the basket decline, the price of all five declined.

An expert Ehrlich consulted in picking the five was John Holdren, who today is President Obama's science adviser. Credentialed intellectuals, too -- actually, especially -- illustrate Montaigne's axiom: "Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know."
Will, of course, presents here the cornucopian view that mineral resources do not deplete, but rather expand over time because they are "created" by entrepreneurship and market economic forces.

My view is that the cornucopian position is crazy talk. Oil and minerals in the ground are finite. Period. Civilizations collapse when the key ingredients they are based on run out. Paul Ehrlich's bet was based on mistaken assumptions about the time scale and economic conditions over which prices will respond to depletion. This is not something anyone easily can predict. The silly incident does not repeal depletion, or prove that John Holdren will be a bad science adviser.

Will should take to heart the axiom he quotes: "Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

HOPE Festival symbol
HOPE Festival logo, created for 1st event in 1994
Saturday April 19, 10am–4pm
U Maine Field House, Orono

The Weekly had a good front-page story today:

14th annual HOPE Festival set
By BDN Staff - Bangor Daily News
ORONO, Maine - The 14th annual HOPE Festival - Help Organize Peace Earthwide - Saturday, April 19, at the University of Maine Field house will offer activities for all ages to celebrate Earth Day, their connections to the Earth and to each other and to learn how to reduce their "carbon footprint."

The festival will feature a Green Expo, live entertainment, films and a fair with more than 80 organizations.

After the opening ceremony with Penobscot Elder Arnie Neptune and drumming with Eh Pit Sisok (Little Women) from Indian Island, attendees may browse information tables and pick up buttons, bumper stickers and T-shirts. Activities include:
  • The lively jazz of A-Train, 11:15 am
  • International Student Dancers, 12:15 pm
  • The peaceful music of the UMaine Classical Guitar Ensemble, 1:45 pm
  • The amazing juggling of Zackary Field, 2 pm
  • Nasruddin Puppet wisdom stories, Richard Merrill, 3 pm
  • In the children?s area, youngsters will learn and play with miniature solar panels provided by the Maine Energy Education Program and learn how to start an environmental club from Green Team Maine... [and much more!]
More information from the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine HERE. Some pictures from previous events HERE and HERE.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Federal budget bill also includes $25.5 million in LIHEAP heating assistance

Veazie Dam Jan.04.2007 (Maine Owl photo)
Veazie Dam, January 4, 2007 (Maine Owl photo)

Following up on previous posts, President Bush has signed a $555 billion budget bill that includes probably $10 million for the Penobscot River restoration project and $25.5 million in LIHEAP funds for Maine winter heating fuel assistance. The Bangor Daily News today finally has something on the Penobscot River story within this front-page article:

$555B budget aids Maine:
Funds for Penobscot River fish habitat, LIHEAP in package
By Kevin Miller - Friday, December 28, 2007 - Bangor Daily News
The omnibus $555 billion budget bill signed by President Bush this week contains much-needed assistance for Mainers struggling to heat their homes and millions of dollars for local conservation projects, including fish passage in the Penobscot River.

Maine?s congressional delegation had made home heating assistance a top priority during budget negotiations. The federal spending package approved by both Congress and the Bush administration contains $2.6 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Maine will receive a minimum of $25.5 million in LIHEAP funds in the current federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. It also will be eligible for a portion of the $586 million in emergency LIHEAP funding which the administration can dispense at its discretion.

Members of the Maine delegation are asking the president to release the emergency funding immediately to help low-income families offset the rising costs of heating oil. More than 48,000 Maine households typically receive money from the federal program.

Proponents of several high-profile land conservation projects also were pleased with provisions of the federal budget.

For months now, those involved with a historic plan to remove two dams and bypass a third on the Penobscot River have been working with Maine?s delegation to secure $10 million for the project....

The omnibus budget bill also contains $3.25 million in Forest Legacy funds to buy a working forest easement from GMO Renewable Resources on 24,500 acres near Great Pond in Hancock County.

Maine already had received $2.2 million in Forest Legacy funds for another part of what is known as the Lower Penobscot Forest project. Combined, the two phases will prohibit development on more than 42,500 acres stretching from the Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Milford to the west branch of the Union River....
Wow. That last statement of policy embodied in the act funding the Lower Penobscot Forest project is a staggeringly huge plus for our area. Why isn't our local media all over this one? Why was the Boston Globe ahead of them? I'm happy Congress (with the strong support of Republican Senators Snowe and Collins) managed to pull this off and get the Administration to go along.

Of course one always needs to be suspicious of Bush, as he has tended to use Maine as his environmental facade. And Collins could use some environmental cred in her re-election fight with Rep. Tom Allen who is the Democrat challenging her for her Senate seat. Of course, Allen is 100% behind this project as well. Well, it's all happy consequences for us, the inhabitants of this area.

On the LIHEAP front, it amazes me how both Snowe and Collins (correctly) abandon "free market" principles with respect to the home heating catastrophe brewing here in Maine this winter. The money will go a long way to helping those worst off. My question is, why don't we put some real liberals in those Senate seats? The state obviously requires public resources to assuage the horrors of the 21st century American economy.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bush expected to sign omnibus bill containing money for watershed protection in eastern Maine

Part of Veazie dam
The Veazie Dam will be removed to restore salmon run (Maine Owl photo)

The Boston Globe had this story on Sunday:

US aid may preserve huge Maine tract
By Beth Daley / Globe Staff / December 23, 2007
The mighty Penobscot River and the thick blanket of forest surrounding it is legend in Maine: Its majestic salmon runs once lured fishermen from across the country; near its lower end, spruce fir stands and kettlehole bogs define one of the state's most unusual and striking landscapes.

Now the region is slated to receive $13.25 million in federal funds to restore the Penobscot, where dams have prevented fish from swiming upstream, and to protect 24,500 acres of a remote swath of forest near Bangor that is threatened by development.

The money, in two separate line items, is part of the federal appropriations bill that President Bush was expected to sign before Christmas.

"It's fantastic to see both of these projects happening at the same time," said Deb Perkins, Maine projects director for the Northern Forest Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of groups that work to protect the 26 million acres of the Northern Forest across northern New England and upstate New York. "It takes the long view to preserve our rural heritage and our connection to the river and woodlands."

About $10 million of the appropriation will be paired with $15 million already raised by a coalition of river-related organizations to purchase three dams on the Penobscot.

The two dams closest to the sea will be removed. A third, in Howland, will be decommissioned, and a fish passage will be built to allow salmon and shad returning to the river from the sea to bypass the dam to get upstream.

The dam purchase is a cornerstone of one of the largest river restoration projects in North America along the approximately 350-mile Penobscot. PPL Maine, which owns eight dams on the river, conservation groups, the Penobscot Nation, and federal and state agencies have been working for seven years to allow the same amount of hydropower to be produced while reopening the river and its tributaries to 11 species of fish. PPL will ultimately be allowed to increase power at six dams to compensate for the loss of power at the other three.

"The Penobscot Indian people, whose homeland includes the Penobscot River Watershed, have waited patiently for many years to see the once great fishery runs of the Penobscot restored," said Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Indian Nation. It is, he said, "as good a Christmas present as we could have hoped for."

The remaining $3.25 million of the federal funds will go to protect 24,500 acres in an area the US Forest Service recently declared one of the country's most threatened by development. That tract of central and eastern Maine land, known as the Lower Penobscot Forest, begins about 15 miles northeast of Bangor.

The region hosts one of the last trout strongholds in the state, and on sections of the Union River, which runs through it, people can paddle canoes for miles without seeing any other sign of humans.

The money will go to buy development rights from landowner GMO Renewable Resources, meaning that the land can still be harvested for timber but will never be sold to build houses. The agreement also guarantees the public the right to use the land in perpetuity for hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling.

"This is great news," said Bruce Kidman of The Nature Conservancy in Maine, which brokered the deal and thanked GMO for taking the initiative to sell the rights.

"If you look at a map, there is a road cutting through the property; there are a lot of for sale and subdivision signs," Kidman said. "It needs to be protected."

Once, the vast forests of Maine were owned by the same timber barons for generations.

But beginning in the 1990s, millions of acres went on the auction block. While most of the land was sold to other timber companies, some was subdivided and sold for houses, sparking fears of conservationists and state officials that Maine's vast woods would be fragmented. Bears, moose, and scores of other species in the region need large swaths of such land to flourish, and the private holdings are used by fishermen and hikers who treat it as a vast public park.

The 24,500 protected acres will become part of a much larger swath of protected lands in the Lower Penobscot Forest. Ultimately, conservation groups want to create a belt of conserved lands from Bangor to Acadia National Park...
Wow. This project takes a big leap forward. The tracts of land on the east side of the river just up from the offices of Maine Owl are essential habitat and offer wonderful waters in which to dip the canoe.

I had some initial skepticism when I reported in June 2004 about the signing of the agreement in principle between the stakeholding parties and the kick-off of the fund raising project. Then Interior Secretary Gale Norton--not an environmentally-friendly figure to be sure--came to our neighborhood near the Veazie Dam with grand promises of a strong federal contribution. Now that help appears to be at hand. Thank you Congress and thank you Bush Administration.

But one odd question I have is, Why is the Globe reporting this first, not our local media?