The Maine Senate on Monday night approved legislation providing a carve-out in environmental regulations that would allow construction of an offshore wind terminal on Sears Island, right. Press Herald photo by David A. Rodgers

The Maine Senate on Monday night approved legislation providing a carve-out in environmental regulations that would allow construction of an offshore wind terminal on Sears Island.

The Senate voted 21-13 on the measure, which pits two competing environmental issues: protecting a sand dune system on Sears Island and advancing Maine’s drive to harness wind from the Atlantic Ocean and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The House of Representatives rejected the measure last week and will now reconsider the Senate version that would exempt the sand dunes from environmental protection. The Mills administration and other supporters of the wind port must persuade some of the 80 lawmakers who voted no to switch sides. The bill was backed by 65 House members.

Environmentalists say the dunes protect buildings and infrastructure from waves and flooding while providing habitat for migratory shore birds and endangered and threatened species.

Advocates say the legislation affects a manmade sand dune system on four-tenths of an acre on state Department of Transportation land on Sears Island that was created by the construction of a jetty.

Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, the Senate chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, told colleagues during Senate debate that the legislation provides a “narrow exemption in sand dune rules” to allow for construction of a wind port terminal.


The legislation would allow the state Department of Environmental Protection to act only after all laws and agency rules also permit construction. The project requires lengthy state and federal permitting processes after a site is selected and an analysis of alternative sites. If environmental, economic and community costs and benefits are outweighed at another site, then the alternative location must be selected, Brenner said.

Gov. Janet Mills announced in February her selection of Sears Island for Maine’s foray into wind power. She said it was not an easy decision, and it was opposed by environmentalists who favored nearby Mack Point.

The 100-acre site on Sears Island was one of several reviewed for more than two years by Maine officials. Portland, Eastport and Mack Point – which also is in Searsport – also were considered. State environmental officials said the Sears Island site would not require dredging, unlike at Mack Point.

But critics of the project have urged Mack Island to be used to avoid what they call the industrialization of Sears Island.

Sen. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, said the state has not made public the analysis it used to select Sears Island.

“I cannot go home to the people I represent and say, ‘You know, I continue to put my thumb on the scale for Sears Island with no analysis to back this up,’ ” she said.


“I hope you will vote with me and vote down what was affectionately called by a local citizen a ‘dune boggle,’ ” Grohoski added.

Building an offshore terminal that would be used for wind turbine components would be “turning it into a construction zone,” she said. The vote is premature, and lawmakers can return to the issue when data are released “conveniently after we adjourn,” Grohoski said.

However, Brenner said rejecting the legislation would delay permitting applications for a wind port until at least the summer or fall of 2025, “delaying our state efforts to lead in the offshore wind industry” and potentially losing federal funding, she said.

Sen. Mark Lawrence, D-York, cited a slew of recent storms that have pounded Maine and said the issue is “about climate change … and whether we are actually going to do something about climate change.”

He also said the project will create well-paid jobs.

Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Androscoggin, said he’s not necessarily opposed to developing the Sears Island dunes. But he said he believes wind power is a “scam,” and “I don’t like the idea of us going further down that road as a state.”

“To someone who’s a skeptic of wind, what can you tell us about the benefits of this port to counterbalance our skepticism about wind power?” Brakey asked.

Brenner said the legislation does not propose to issue permits for Sears Island to serve as a wind port. It focuses on the sand dunes, she said.

“If there was a terminal built and the industry was unsuccessful as you predict, then the facility could be repermitted by the state for a different use,” Brenner said.

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