State of Maine Wants to Build a Port on Sears Island

February 9, 2022 IIT IIT News Update

Last November, IIT received a phone call from Hannah Pingree, advisor to Governor Mills, giving us a “heads-up” that a soon to be released offshore wind port development study would name Sears Island as an option. The report, conducted by Moffat and Nichol for the Maine Department of Transportation, not only identified Sears Island as one option, along with Mack Point, it referred to Sears Island as the central hub for east coast floating offshore wind manufacturing and deployment.

Moffat and Nichol acknowledged that, “…with modifications, both the Mack Point and Sears Island sites can achieve or surpass the minimum required [offshore wind port] criteria,” (Maine Department of Transportation: Offshore Wind Port Infrastructure
Feasibility Study, p. 39). Yet on page 47 of the report, Moffat and Nichol conclude, “The Port of Searsport offshore wind hub concept proposes a marine terminal on Sears Island as a centralized hub for assembly and launching of floating foundations as well as erection of the WTG [wind turbine generator] components onto the foundations.”

As currently proposed, the offshore wind port at Sears Island would clear, grade and compact more than 45 acres of upland, remove 1,215,000 cubic yards of earth and fill more than 17 acres of marine habitat with over 800,000 cubic yards of that harvested soil, destroying acres of eelgrass meadows, essential fish habitat, fisheries nursery, shellfish beds, freshwater wetlands and more.

Proposed Sears Island OSW port location looking north. T. DeWan photo

There are numerous reasons why building an offshore wind (OSW) port at Mack Point, instead of Sears Island, is a vastly superior location if the offshore wind port is to be located in Penobscot Bay.

• Sears Island is an undeveloped, natural area. It should not be damaged when a suitable,
existing industrial site is available. Sears Island is a relatively intact ecosystem supporting a plethora of marine and terrestrial plants and animals that humans need and desire — a healthy landscape illustrative of the reduced carbon emissions future that OSW hopes to compliment. Whereas Mack Point is and has been for decades an industrial site.


1917 post card depicting Mack Point coal pier and processing facility, long removed, where OSW port would be located. Lang Smith collection.

• An OSW port at Mack Point consolidates heavy industry in a single location. OSW at Mack Point literally removes unused physical remnants of the outdated energy production
that OSW intends to replace with cleaner, renewable, more sustainable energy production
for today and the future.

• Sprague Energy is ready to adjust its Mack Point port activity to accommodate OSW.

• The final agreement issued by the Sears Island Planning Initiative (SIPI), the stakeholder process convened and completed by Governor Baldacci that IIT and several other stakeholders participated in, determined that “Mack Point shall be given preference as an alternative to port development on Sears Island.” In April 2007, Governor Baldacci wrote that the SIPI agreement “… provides policy makers, state and regional business people, and local citizens clear guidance about how Sears Island will and will not be used in the future.” The DOT should be honoring that determination.

• Past attempts at developing Sears Island for industrial purposes (oil refinery, nuclear
power, coal power, cargo port, LNG, container port) all failed due largely to immense public opposition. History can be instructive. An attempt to develop OSW on Sears Island,
when Mack Point is clearly the least environmentally damaging alternative, will
generate a comparable or greater groundswell of public opposition as those past efforts.


• The December 2020 Maine Climate Council report titled Maine Won’t Wait
acknowledges that, “Protecting natural and working lands from development maintains their potential to draw back carbon from the atmosphere, as well as provide important
co-benefits. Maine’s coastal and marine areas also store carbon, while supporting our
fishing, aquaculture, and tourism industries.”[Maine Won’t Wait Executive Summary p.

• The Maine Climate Council explicitly endorsed policies “… to ensure renewable energy
project siting is streamlined and transparent while seeking to minimize impacts on
natural and working lands and engaging key stakeholders.” [Maine Won’t Wait
Executive Summary p. 8. Emphasis added.]

Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT), acting as lead state agency, claims that no
decision has yet been made in choosing the OSW port and that a forthcoming stakeholder
review process can help make that choice. However, (1) MDOT actively promotes Sears Island as the OSW port, (2) a service company with close ties to the Maine Port Authority is lobbying state legislators to support development of Sears Island instead of Mack Point, (3) MDOT hired geotechnical consultants to continue research at Sears Island without any further research at Mack Point, and (4) a reliable source indicates that MDOT began outreach to potential contractors for port development work at Sears Island.

Fishing from the Sears Island jetty, location of proposed OSW port. Kevin Shields photo.

The Moffat and Nichol report suggested that one of the primary reasons to develop the OSW port at Sears Island rather than at Mack Point is because Sears Island offers room for port and industrial expansion, building on the long-held MDOT interest in an industrial future for Penobscot Bay. For example, the Searsport Intermodal Commodity Study dated August 3, 2017, on page 39 under the heading Land Expansion and Industrial Park Development, recommends maintaining Sears Island as a “site for future Port use.”

Maine’s laudable move to support and develop renewable energy is far more than a simple transportation issue. Renewable energy development is quite literally attempting to clean up the environment – creating a useable energy source without carbon emission pollution from burning fossil fuels. The Moffat and Nichol investigation into a potential Searsport offshore wind (OSW) port determined that OSW infrastructure development could occur at Mack Point or Sears Island. However, destroying the intact ecology of Sears Island instead of replacing remnants of our outdated, carbon-emitting past at Mack Point as we embrace and invest in renewable energy production undermines the very purpose of this incredibly important endeavor.

Will we destroy nearly 100 acres of thriving marine ecology and forested upland, seasonal pools and essential fish habitat; will we scrape away more than a million cubic yards of soil to create a level, impermeable surface that can only exist by human imposition — all of which would be the case if the proposed OSW port were built at Sears Island – as remedy for past transgressions against the natural systems that sustain life on this planet? Does such dramatic but unnecessary presumptive and intrusive assault against Sears Island make sense in our effort to lower carbon emissions and mitigate climate change?

Sears Island looking south near proposed OSW port location. Kevin Shields photo.

What path fulfills the need for renewable energy development with minimal disruption to the natural systems that we hope to thereby protect and nurture?

Might the choice of an OSW port become a long, unfortunate, disagreeable and highly
contentious fight over the importance of maintaining intact ecosystem functions? Especially given the OSW port option at Mack Point?

Please contact IIT via with questions or suggestions.

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