Sears Island, on the right. Press Herald photo by David A. Rodgers

The Legislature got its first close look Monday at Gov. Janet Mills’ selection of Sears Island as the hub for Maine’s floating offshore wind power industry while supporters and opponents weighed in on a plan to allow a terminal to be built in a coastal sand dune system.

Backers who spoke before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee emphasized the need to ramp up wind power in Maine. Opponents criticized what they say would be the industrialization of the island in Searsport to build and operate a terminal that would receive wind turbines and other equipment, then send out assembled parts to the Gulf of Maine.

Rep. Gerry Runte Jr., D-York, who is presenting the legislation, said Sears Island is home to three distinct sand dunes. Part of the proposed terminal would be built on one of the dunes, which he characterized as a small pocket dune that took shape behind a jetty.

“Including this dune in the project footprint was a decision not made lightly, but with full consideration of the broader environmental and economic benefits,” he said.

An amendment will soon be offered proposing a “targeted exception” to safeguard the other dunes.

“This exception is narrowly defined, ensuring no other dune on the island would be affected,” Runte said.


It also would require the transfer of a portion of the parcel with the second dune system from the state Department of Transportation to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Runte said.

The legislation “represents a thoughtful, strategic approach to environmental stewardship in the era of climate change,” he said.

Opponents urged lawmakers to respect the area’s coastal environment.

Tribal Rep. Aaron Dana of the Passamaquoddy Tribe said the proposal would disrupt the area’s environment and cause pollution, affecting the ability to fish, hunt and gather “in the traditional ways that have sustained the Passamaquoddy people” and others.

Industrialization of the areas “not only (desecrates) our sacred sites, but (it also erodes) our cultural heritage and our connection behind the land,” Dana said.

Joshua Kercsmar, vice president of Preserve Rural Maine, said the conservation group prefers construction of a wind port on the “already industrialized Mack Point” part of Searsport that has no coastal dunes.


He also said the state would set a bad precedent by changing environmental policy.

“If through a single bill the laws no longer apply to protecting Sears Island then a troubling question arises: If the state can so easily undo protections on Sears Island sand dunes, why could it not just as easily undo protections on other protected ecosystems elsewhere?” Kercsmar said.

Sand dunes and coastal beaches protect buildings and infrastructure from waves and flooding and provide habitat for migratory shore birds and endangered and threatened species, Maine Audubon said. It suggested establishing a Coastal Sand Dune Restoration and Protection Fund, modeled after Maine’s Lake Water Quality and Restoration Fund, that “would help kickstart a novel opportunity to increase technical assistance, research and public education.”

This illustration, published in a Feb. 2023 state report, shows various fixed-bottom and floating foundations that can be used to anchor offshore wind turbines. Maine’s floating offshore wind terminal will be an assembly site for several kinds of floating turbines, including ones with semisubmersible concrete hulls designed by University of Maine researchers. Courtesy of DHI, via Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap

Steve Miller, executive director of Islesboro Islands Trust and a member of the executive committee of the Alliance for Sears Island that oppose the legislation, said “critical climate change decisions require care to avoid further environment damage.”

Building a wind turbine terminal “must be accomplished with minimal or no adverse environmental damage,” he said.

Rep. Reagan Paul, a Republican whose House district includes Searsport, said the Mills administration’s proposal is “incredibly irresponsible.”


“This bill would set a dangerous precedent for the destruction of our coastal ecosystems,” she said.

Mills announced the selection of Searsport Feb. 20, saying it was “not an easy decision nor is it one that I made lightly.” The 100-acre site was one of several considered in a more than two-year review by Maine officials. The location is on one-third of Sears Island that the state DOT has reserved for development. The other two-thirds are in a permanent conservation easement held by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

Meghan Russo, director of government affairs at the DOT, told lawmakers that the Sears Island site would not require dredging, unlike at Mack Point, with its “inadequate size and shape, competing uses, extensive dredging and high development and operational costs.”

Jack Shapiro, climate and clean energy director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, urged lawmakers to pass the legislation. Wind from the Gulf of Maine is among the strongest and most consistent available, with offshore wind expected to generate about half the renewable energy needed by Maine by the end of the next decade, he said.

“There is no substitute for offshore wind with anything close to that potential for clean energy generation for Maine,” Shapiro said.

The legislation does not prohibit state and federal permitting or an analysis of the Sears Island and Mack Point sites, he said. If an exemption to state protections is allowed, it should be “as narrow as possible.”

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