SOUTH PORTLAND – Many letter writers to this newspaper have expressed concern over Gov. LePage’s plan to review and revise environmental laws and regulations.

Most speak in general terms, often painting pictures of 40 years ago when our rivers were white with foam. Few, if any, comment about specific issues or problems.

I’d like to bring this debate closer to home and describe some issues that I’m familiar with in the marine construction industry.

In the city of Portland, for example, everyone is concerned about the loss of fishing related jobs and businesses.

The recent debate about revising waterfront zoning pitted the fishing industry against pier owners who needed greater incomes from non-marine businesses in order to maintain their piers.

I think both parties in the debate will agree that increasing the cost of marine construction is not part of the solution, but that is exactly what some DEP regulations do.

I would like to describe some examples and ask readers to consider whether relaxing these rules would result in loss of environmental quality.

It has been longstanding practice to restrict dredging to Nov. 1 to April 15 when lobsters are offshore.

Marine contractors are typically booked a year in advance to get all the dredging done in this short window.

But now DEP permits often restrict driving new piling to the same Nov. 1 to April 15 window or shorter. If the contractors are all busy dredging, they wont be able to build or repair piers.

As a result, the cost of marine construction will go up. Contractors who used to have a balanced workload will have employees laid off in the spring and summer because they can’t do any pile driving.

What’s the reason for restricting pile driving to the winter months?

In a DEP permit just received by our office, the Department of Marine Resources recommends that pile driving be done between Nov. 1 and March 15 “to minimize any potential adverse impacts from noise.”

So in other words, we shouldn’t make any noise near the water from March to November.

Does everyone agree that to have a quiet waterfront, the cost of waterfront construction must increase, and as a result fishing boats should pay more rent?

The noise issue doesn’t end here. In 2007 we got a similar DEP permit for the property abutting the one described above.

In that permit, DMR recommended that pile driving be done between July 1 and March 15 to avoid noise interference with migrating fish.

In the same permit the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife recommended that no construction of any type be allowed between Dec. 1 and March 31 because it would disturb waterfowl.

DEP subsequently required that all work be done between July 1 and Dec. 1 to offend neither fish nor fowl.

Interestingly, in the 2010 permit, IF&W “did not identify any concerns” at the proposed pile driving next door to the site of the 2007 permit.

Had they done so, in combination with DMR’s 2010 comments, the construction would be limited to Nov. 1 to Dec. 1, a total of one month out of 12.

Another issue on the waterfront is the requirement by DEP of compensation for the loss of a coastal wetland’s “functions and values” when a project has more than 500 square feet of footprint in the resource.

There are two problems with that:

First, DEP makes no distinction between the functions and values of a square foot in the Scarborough Marsh verses a square foot in Portland’s working harbor. In the DEP’s mind, both have equal value.

Unfortunately, nobody at DEP has ever watched a cruise ship use its bow thrusters, or watched the wash from tug boats docking an oil tanker.

They would then realize that most of Portland’s inner harbor bottom is a muddy wasteland.

Second, DEP overestimates the value of compensation required. Compensation can be either a check payable to Maine DEP, or it can be restoration or creation of resource.

One recent project I was involved with had a construction cost of $40,000.

The property owner had no other wetland resources that could be improved, so DEP suggested a check for $19,000 instead — nearly a 50 percent surcharge.

In another instance, it was suggested that removing the Back Bay railroad trestle could be compensation for another small project.

Requirements like these by DEP, DMR, and IF&W are tragically whimsical.

They do nothing for the environment and harm our ability to live and work here.

A thorough review is long overdue.

– Special to the Press Herald