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Defending the coast and a bird-filled marsh: CLF in Maine is ... (From The States).

Launching the Maine Coastal Defense Project

The Maine coast is under siege. CLF's coastal defense project is a strategic advocacy agenda designed to protect it. Though the coast comprises only 12% of Maine's land area, it's an attraction for more than eight million visitors annually, and home to nearly half the state's growing population. All this hugely stresses the health of coastal ecosystems, not to mention the character of coastal communities.

Maine harbors and waterfronts are becoming heavily congested. Increasing numbers of docks, marinas, and aquaculture sites diminish natural beauty. Wildlife habitat is being destroyed, wild places lost forever, public access to the shore denied, and protected conservation lands jeopardized.

The project will focus on a number of critical tasks:

* Restoring tidal estuaries to support our coastal and marine biodiversity

* Protecting near-shore waters to preserve public rights to fishing, navigation, and recreation

* Protecting and enhancing visual and public access to coastal waters

* Reforming state aquaculture policy to safeguard water quality and public uses of coastal waters and lands

* Developing a coastal transportation plan that reduces congestion and prevents sprawl

* Shaping land-use policies to protect and preserve the coast

Protecting Penjajawoc Marsh

Bangor's 350-acre Penjajawoc Marsh, fed by a stream of the same name, is home to 17 bird species on the endangered, threatened, or "state watch" lists. It's one of the state's most important wildlife areas. Widewaters Stillwater Co., LLC. filed an application with the Bangor Planning Board to build a Wal-Mart "superstore" on a 27.4 acre site near a portion of the marsh, and adjacent to Penjajawoc stream, but the company's proposal lacks plans for an adequate buffer between the superstore and fragile marsh resources.

At the public hearing, after many Maine environmentalists testified about the lack of a buffer and the marsh's unique habitat, the planning board rejected the application, three to two. Members said that the project's effect on the marsh would violate Section 165-114(I) of the Bangor Land Development Ordinance.

On appeal, the state Superior Court invalidated 165-114(I). It claimed the ordinance represented an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority, violating the due process clause and the equal protection clause. The court relied on a recent Maine Supreme Judicial Court case, Kosalka v. Town of Georgetown, which found that an ordinance requiring a municipal board to determine if a project will "conserve natural beauty" was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority "because the condition [natural beauty] ... is an immeasurable quality, totally lacking in cognizable, quantitative standards."

CLF believes that the Superior Court's decision is wrong. It was appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court by a citizen group called the Bangor Area Citizens Organized for Responsible Development, which asked CLF to support the appeal by filing an amicus brief with the same court.

CLF subsequently filed an amicus curiae, as well as the amicus brief, with Maine's highest court; it has been accepted for the court's deliberations. As important as the development's effects on the marsh might be, CLF believes that the larger question, of the boundaries of permissible legislative standards, and the degree to which they must be susceptible to objective certainty, is even more important.

This case illustrates the unique role that CLFs lawyers are playing in Maine, in support of local organizations in their efforts to protect the state's environment.

Seeking Controls on Mid-Coast Aquaculture Expansion

CLF is working with the communities of Deer Isle and Little Deer Isle, as well as with the owners of several other islands, to oppose approval of applications for what would be the first two commercial finfish aquaculture projects in East Penobscot Bay. We and our allies oppose this expansion because of the negative effects on fishing, water quality, and navigation that would almost certainly ensue in the pristine bay, and because of the scenic impact of the projects in their proposed location -- just off the shores of historic and lovely Eaton, Scott, and Pickering Islands.

The islands are privately preserved by permanent conservation easements, and are the setting for several of noted Maine author Robert McCloskey's children's books, including One Morning in Maine, and Blueberries for Sal.

Finfish aquaculture projects have proliferated in the state over the past decade. As they spread from Down East towards midcoast, it has become apparent that the apparatus regulating them is inadequate for dealing with the broad range of environmental issues that they pose. Coastal communities have strong feelings about the expansion; many are frustrated by their inability to effectively express their concerns during the permitting process.

An urgent need exists for focusing debate on the subject, in a way that accommodates the state's interest in promoting aquaculture, and at the same time ensures that growth of the industry doesn't occur at the expense of important coastal concerns. The latter include fishing, water quality, and navigation issues -- all current concerns of aquaculture regulation. They also include scenic and coastal water use compatibility issues, usually addressed on land through land use regulation; no counterpart for dealing with such issues currently exists for coastal waters.

With all this in mind, CLF is pursuing a temporary moratorium on the siting of new finfish aquaculture projects in Maine, and creation of a management plan for near-coast waters that identifies both appropriate and inappropriate areas for them. This would help communities, by reducing their need to respond on short notice to technical information provided in applications for new projects. It would also encourage regulators to improve anti-pollution programs, provide greater certainty on siting for the aquaculture industry, and help ensure that coastal communities have a meaningful voice in siting decisions.

Protecting Coastal Water Quality from Scofflaws

As part of CLF's Coastal Defense Project, we're using all our legal tools to protect near-shore waters from environmental degradation. We recently issued a notice of intent, under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), to file a federal "citizen suit" against the General Alum & Chemical Corporation of New England (GAC).

Located on the shore of Searsport's Stockton Harbor, GAC has continuously violated its federal and state wastewater discharge permits, contributing to the harbor's decline through illegal discharges of process wastewater (including direct discharges of spilled sulphuric acid) and contaminated storm water. The company also has a lengthy history of allowing industrial process tailings and miscellaneous debris to pollute the harbor.

Stockton Harbor was once "The Clam Capital of Penobscot Bay," but that sobriquet no longer applies -- because of GAC's excesses. Despite periodic efforts by the state to investigate the harbor's decline and to improve the company's environmental practices, it has continued to ignore its environmental responsibilities. If GAC had taken them seriously, years of environmental harm from illegal discharges of pollutants, and from spills of toxic materials, could have been avoided.

CLF will be seeking civil penalties for the violations, and injunctive relief to prevent GAC from allowing further discharges, except for those that comply with all federal CWA requirements. Compliance is particularly important in this case, given GAC's proximity to Stockton Harbor, and the chemical nature of its business. Through these and related efforts, CLF hopes to restore the harbor's clam flats to their once legendary production levels.

For more information, see: www.clf.org/about clf/ and click on Maine.
Peter Shelley
Maine Advocacy Center Director
COPYRIGHT 2001 Conservation Law Foundation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Shelley, Peter
Publication:Conservation Matters
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2001
Words:1200
Previous Article:Clean water victory for lake Champlain has nationwide implications. (Bulletin from Vermont).
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