Norway would never allow aquafarm proposed for Frenchman Bay; Is Maine an easy mark?
SOMESVILLE, Sept. 18, 2021 - The Norwegians who want to turn 120 acres of Frenchman Bay into their own floating ATM would never be permitted in their own country to exploit coastal resources for salmon farming at such a large scale.
Maine’s unsuspecting taxpayers, loose marine leasing protocols and immature aquaculture management make it an easy mark for the company which cynically calls itself American Aquafarms.
The amount American Aquafarms wants to produce exceeds the total amount licensed to 30 companies in the August 2020 auction for all of Norway.
“This project is ~20X larger than AA could permit in Norway because our regulations allow it. Norway's do not,” said Henry Sharpe, president of Frenchman Bay United who this week completed an exhaustive analysis of Norway’s licensing process for salmon farms.
“For AA to do in Norway what it proposes for Frenchman Bay, it would cost almost $1 billion in permitting fees,” said Sharpe. But in Maine, it would cost $12,000 a year as the state charges only $100 an acre for a multi-year lease. Even at AA’s lowest protection, the fee would be $500 million, “still a massive amount,” said Sharpe.
“That’s why they are here,” said Sharpe, an engineer by trade.
He aggregated all the companies that purchased salmon farming licenses in August 2020 in Norway, converted all the metric tons and Norwegian currency into pounds and dollars and published the following summary of the biomass licensed and license fees paid:
With 50 years of experience in salmon farming, Norway has developed rules to protect its water and waterfront against bio hazards such as disease and pollution. The country has spread out farming sites so no single large enterprise can cause massive, irreparable damage. AA wants to produce 66 million pounds a year out of two facilities in Frenchman Bay.
Norway doesn’t license by acreage but by tonnage. No one facility may contain more than 945 metric tons of fish at any one time, Sharp said. In more restricted zones, the limit is 780 MTs. In the August 2020 auction, Norway licensed almost 28,000MT, or about 60 million pounds. The auction raised almost $700M.
The proposal by AA in Frenchman Bay envisions 80 million pounds at any one time in semi-closed pens. That number is the constant amount of biomass needed to produce 66 million pounds of marketable fish which was AA’s stated goal.
Sharpe spent countless hours researching the AA application and its implications. In April, he wrote an opinion piece in the Ellsworth American in which he stated, “Once processed, fish will need to be trucked from the Gouldsboro plant. Consider: To haul 66 million pounds of fish, the proposed annual production, you’d need 1,534 trucks stretching 21 miles bumper to bumper.
“Skretting, an international supplier of commercial aquaculture fish food, indicates that it takes 1 pound of fish pellets to raise 1 pound of fish. That translates to another line of 1,534 trucks 21 miles long.
“There will be two 250-foot sludge barges, one at each pen. We don’t know exactly what the sludge volume is yet, but probably a similar volume to the food, so maybe another 21-mile line of trucks.
“There will be large transport logistics for diesel fuel required to power high-volume pumps, controls, lighting and crew quarters. This demand is so large it will require one and possibly two so-called “minor new source” emission licenses from the DEP to meet EPA air pollution regulations. Basically, a license to pollute.
“A large ship will make the 30-mile round trip to Prospect Harbor every day, most likely burning high sulfur fuel oil, among the dirtiest.
“So, all together, considering fish, pellets, and sludge, maybe 4,600 trucks per /year stretching 63 miles bumper to bumper. Double that to 9,200 trucks in a 126-mile line because, of course, if full trucks leave, empty ones need to arrive. Hauling that load from Gouldsboro through Ellsworth and beyond, five days a week, for 52 weeks of each year translates to 17 trucks leaving and 17 truck arriving every day, one every 14 minutes (assuming an eight-hour shift per /day) for 20 years on our small roads. Not to mention the additional traffic congestion from employees.”
And all this assumes that nothing breaks, no accidents and that the technology will work as promised. AA’s solution to problematic “open pens” is to create giant semi-closed pens. Sharpe’s organization Frenchman Bay United released this video Tuesday showing that the only such pen in North America rains effluent into the sound west of Vancouver Island.
AA has been busy hiring local representatives to state their case and to de-fang the protestors. One such person is Tom Brennan, director of “project development” and former executive at Poland Springs, another company adept at exploiting Maine’s natural resources for investors.
On Sept. 8, on the far-right station WVOM, he actually said, “I’d like to see an exhibit of the close pen technology at the welcome center at the park at Acadia …
“I’d like for people on Cadillac Mountain with their binoculars look out at those pens as a point of pride … we’re, like Acadia, a jewel on the coast of Maine ..”
How will the state with its under-staffed personnel even begin to process, manage and monitor an enterprise of AA’s scale?
As of this week, the state has about 65 applications for leases in various stages of completion, renewal and consideration. The only salmon farm with a lease, Cooke Aquaculture, is working with a permit two years beyond its renewal date. The state office for processing applicants has only six persons currently.
“The department will soon be adding two new positions and one part-time position, and filling two vacancies in the aquaculture program thanks to the recently enacted SFY 22-23 state budget,” said Jeff Nichols, spokesman for the marine resources department.
“The increased capacity within the division (from 8 positions, two of which were vacant, to 10.5 as a result of the budget) will allow DMR to not only more efficiently administer applications, leases and licenses, but also to monitor sites for compliance, develop policy, and conduct aquaculture-related education and outreach.”
But how is the state paying for this overhead when leases are only $100 an acre? Nichols said according to state law, “The rent must represent a fair value based upon the use of and any structures in the leased area, but in no instance may the rental fee be set at less than $50 an acre or more than $100 an acre.“
Sharpe and others say the $100 fee was originally intended for fisherman who wanted to try their hand at small scale farming and never intended for giant corporations.
"$100 an acre for small local aquaculturists can be a big deal. It's really chump change for out-of-country corporations intent on making millions of dollars off large industrial aquaculture leases,” said Crystal Canney, director of Protect Maine's Fishing Heritage Foundation.
“The Department of Marine Resources makes no distinction; therefore setting the table for exactly what is happening in Frenchman Bay. Maine is a cheap date for big corporations and it's one step closer to selling our oceans. It's time for the state to wake up about what it is doing to its own people, economy and environment."
MDI on track for highest Covid positive tests in September after record high in August
SOMESVILLE - September has brought 14 positive tests for Covid-19 at MDI Hospital in Bar Harbor and satellite clinics and facilities so far, on pace to eclipse the August high water mark of 23 cases, according to a hospital spokesperson.
The Sept. 15 number included two out-of-county residents. The total since March 2020 include 146 country residents and 13 non-county cases.
The hospital has alerted MDI municipalities and businesses to urge them to adopt masking protocols.
Southwest Harbor select board voted 3-2 this week to adopted the recommendation by interim town manager Dana Reed “to require that all Town employees wear approved face masks covering their mouth and nose when working within six feet of another or unless they are in a private workspace; to require that all visitors to Town facilities wear approved face masks covering their mouth and nose when within six feet of any other person; and to direct that the Town Manager develop a Policy addressing this issue for Select Board consideration.”
The motion passed, with Chair George Jellison, Carolyn Ball and Dan Norwood in favor and Chad Terry and Allen Willey opposed.
“I don’t feel I was put on this board to make mandate some people’s personal choice. I’m against it,” Terry said.
He told QSJ that he believed the mandate should have come from the state.
MDI teacher relations at worst point in a decade
SOMESVILLE - Is there a bigger stain on a community than to see the teachers of our children and elected officials engage in a very public, pitched battle over renumeration and work rules?
This week the Islander's Dick Broom reported a major break in the negotiation for a new contract when the MDI teachers union filed a “prohibitive practice” complaint with the state Labor Relations Board which was followed by the resignation of the school board chair in protest.
The last three cycles of negotiations between MDI teachers and the schools have gone from bad to worse, said one school board member, culminating in the complaint to the state and the move toward “fact finding” after mediation quickly failed.
This is the most serious fissure in almost 10 years, the member said. Only arbitration is left as a next step.
The schools’ negotiating team of chair Kristi Ballard Losquadro, former chair Heather Jones and superintendent Marc Gousse had just spent six months negotiating a pandemic-induced “back to work” memorandum of understanding and sought a one-year contract.
“Everyone was fried,” said a school board member who added that the one-year bridge was sought because of negotiations fatigue.
Instead, the union characterized the request as playing hard ball, and as bad faith, the member said.
It asked the labor relations board to order the MDI negotiators to “bargain in good faith with the Association, and cease and desist from failing and refusing to supply to the Association information necessary and relevant to its collective-bargaining functions; refusing to give meaningful counter proposals, refusing to schedule dates for bargaining … refusing to bargain in good faith.”
I was witness to one of the most fractious disputes between teachers and municipal officials in the nation’s history. In 1978 in Bridgeport, CT, as a reporter for the Hartford Courant I covered the strike of 1,164 teachers, hundreds of whom were hauled off to jail in school buses. The strike lasted 19 days.
It brought international focus on Bridgeport’s deplorable third-world conditions: classes exceeding 35 students, grossly underpaid teachers, non-existent specialization such as art and music. That decade saw more than 50 teacher strikes in Connecticut.
The Bridgeport strike was volatile and influential at the same time.
A total of 274 Bridgeport teachers were handcuffed, fined, and jailed, as well as strip-searched, deloused, made to use bathroom stalls without doors, and subject to other degradations. In those two weeks in September 1978, some 20 percent of the teaching workforce were hauled off in waves to Camp Hartell, a National Guard facility in Windsor Locks. Many in school buses.
Many times I was inches away from the bodies being shoved into buses from the steps of the courthouse in Bridgeport.
The strike resulted in Connecticut’s binding arbitration law, and the state hasn’t had a strike since. The law gave an arbiter the choice between the final best offer from both sides, forcing them to negotiate in earnest to avoid having to take that 50-50 chance.
Maine has a “binding” arbitration law of sorts. But when it comes to critical economic issues, the law has no teeth. It exempts salary, benefits and pensions from being binding. Strikes are illegal in Connecticut and Maine.
The non-economic issues on MDI are not nearly as dire as they were in Bridgeport in 1978, although the pandemic did stress the system. MDI high school and two lower schools, Connors-Emerson in Bar Harbor and Mount Desert, are consistently ranked among the best public schools in the state. Ironically, Tremont Consolidated School, which consistently lags in standardized scores, is also the hotbed of teacher militancy on MDI.
“They are the most resistant to change,” said a school board member.
MDI’s teacher pay and benefits are higher than the average in Maine, but the cost of living in the area is also higher than average. The Islander reported the minimum salary for an MDIRSS teacher with a bachelor’s degree was $42,500. The highest salary for a teacher with a master’s degree was $68,450. The statewide average lows and highs were $37,856 and $67,883, according to the Maine Education Association.
The lack of affordable housing on MDI is a major factor. The era of teachers as residents of the community seems like a quaint historical footnote, dating back to the one-room schoolhouse.
Does that mean they have less stake in the community? Worse, does that lead to alienation and resentment from the community they serve?
One commonality shared by Bridgeport and MDI is the parent organization, National Education Association. In Bridgeport, the Connecticut Education Association played a major role as orchestra leader and architect of the strike.
In MDI the Maine Education Association has been assuming an even more influential role, say school board members. The complaint against the school board for “prohibitive practices” was signed by Sean Brailey, district representative of the MEA who did not return a call from QSJ.
The complaint alleges that the administration violated the contract by forcing teachers to start the day 30 minutes earlier. One school board member said this was an operational issue and not a contractural one. The complaint also cited chair Kristi Ballard Losquadro of Bar Harbor numerous times. She was clearly the union’s main target.
Whether Losquadro’s resignation was the union’s intended goal was not clear. Several attempts to reach union representatives were unavailing.
At least one other school board member has shared with friends and fellows members an intention to resign as well and said others are also considering.
“I’m worried that the good will and trust we have with parents and the entire community will start to erode.”
Tremont renting code enforcement from Mount Desert as temporary service
TREMONT - This town, which has been operating without a code enforcement officer since Jesse Dunbar was promoted to town manager in June, is borrowing Kim Keene from Mount Desert.
Details of the arrangement will be discussed at the Mount Desert select board Monday.
“I don’t know much about how that developed. I do know that it is on a trial basis and that if it turns out to be a hindrance to the performance of her duties in Mount Desert, it will be revisited,” select member Geoff Woods wrote in an email to QSJ.
Select member Martha Dudman wrote, “As I understand it, this is a temporary agreement to help out Tremont. Durlin told me that Kim has assured him she can take on this duty temporarily.” Durlin Lunt is the town manager in Mount Desert.
It is not unusual for small towns to share jobs such assessor and code enforcement.
Eco bits: Recycling alternative, slash trash challenge, cold storage, hazardous waste day
SOMESVILLE - Public works director Tony Smith struck out in his first attempt to seek an interim solution for the town’s recycling woes. He told the sustainability committee that his overtures to Ellsworth were rejected because that town is already at capacity. He said he would reach out to EMR, which handles the waste from Southwest Harbor.
Meanwhile, his fellow board member on the Acadia Disposal District, Carey Donovan of Tremont, is alerting citizens to a possible solution near Unity, about an hour and half from MDI.
The Unity Area Regional Recyling Center in Thorndike was founded in 1991 by eight member towns, Dixmont, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Montville, Thorndike, Troy and Unity. Non-members may pay $30 a year to dispose of recyclables.
“The market for recycling materials is up considerably from a couple of years ago,” Donovan said. “I have visited the Unity Area Regional Recycling Center and found it to be a very simple, efficient, well-run operation that keeps many materials out of the waste stream. “
Donovan’s recent newsletter also included the Conservation Law Foundation’s 3rd annual Slash Trash Challenge from Sept. 27–Oct. 3.
“Each year, we challenge people to slash the trash in their homes and communities while raising awareness about New England’s – and the world’s – trash crisis. Participants will be able to follow along on social media and join us in taking on a new zero-waste challenge each day! By joining CLF’s Slash Trash Challenge, participants will hear from experts on the best ways to reduce their waste, learn about long-term solutions for creating a zero-waste future across New England, and have a chance to share their own journey with us and others online!”
Then there was the Food Waste SubCommittee.
“This group is pursuing a number of projects. They expect to have a cold storage shed in place, at Maine Coast Heritage Trust, sometime this fall. It may not get much use until next spring, but it will be a very helpful resource for the various MDI organizations that provide food for the community,” Donovan wrote. “The food waste subcommittee expects to have some plans in place for gleaning at the farmers markets next summer and fall. And they also plan to work with the high school Eco-Team during the school year to see what strategies can be put in place to reduce food waste at the high school. A long-range goal would be to have community composting available on MDI.”
Household Hazardous Waste & Universal Waste Collection
PLEASE NOTE NEW LOCATION: TOWN OF TREMONT TOWN OFFICE at 20 Harbor Drive - Saturday, Sept. 25. 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM for MDI and participating other towns.
Sunday (tomorrow) is the last day of 2021 for popovers at my favorite charity, Common Good Soup Kitchen, in the Post Office plaza in Southwest Harbor. Also, the last day to hear the Common Good Band.