November 5, 2023
To whom it may concern,
We are writing today to urge you to rule out Sears Island as the site of the development of a new port for supporting hypothetical oceanic wind energy development. Proper siting is an intrinsic part of “green” energy development, yet here’s another example of Maine choosing the worst place possible for a project.
Sears Island is a unique and special place, beloved by many, and critical ecologically. In addition to the value of the hundreds of acres of undeveloped, healthy forest and the cultural significance of the location, there is an ecological impact that goes much further than just the count of the acres lost. In fact, we believe the impact of this project could be of regional, and even global, significance.
The idea that the port development would only affect a third of the island is disingenuous and misleading. Industrial development of any portion of the island would impact the entire island, irreversibly affecting the island’s ecology. Light and noise pollution would diminish the sanctity of the island for people and wildlife, vehicular traffic would result in direct mortality of wildlife, especially during amphibian migration, and the increased infrastructure would greatly impact the countless thousands of migratory birds that pass over and through the island every spring and fall.
While breeding and resident birds will lose habitat in virtually any development plan, Sears Island’s value for migratory birds is even more significant. Each spring and especially fall, countless thousands of migratory birds – some traveling from as far as the Arctic and others heading to the Amazon – pass through the island. Due to a combination of meteorological and geographical factors, massive flights of migratory birds funnel to the island, travel through the woods and along the shorelines, and depart at the causeway’s end for the mainland.
In an amazing phenomenon known as a “morning flight” or more technically, morning redetermined migration, birds that have been flying all night are forced by instinct and desperation to head for the mainland. Some combination of the search for food, less competition, fewer predators, and the instinct to compensate for overnight drift forces exhausted migrants to “keep going” even when they may be in such dire straits as to be metabolizing their own muscles.
Under certain conditions, thousands of these migrants will make their way through Sears Island, concentrate at the island-end of the causeway, pause for one last moment before making the jump – hoping not to find a hunting predator as many of these birds will be in no state for evasive maneuvers.
Here, many birders from around the area also concentrate, and on some days, can see more birds while standing in one place than almost anywhere else in the state. In fact, it’s well known as one of the greatest concentrations of migratory birds in the entire Mid-Coast. Is this the right spot for “green power” development?
Imagine for a moment one of these birds, perhaps a favorite colorful warbler, that found itself offshore following a strong cold front, desperately fighting back against the wind over the cold, dark waters of the Gulf of Maine. It avoids the confusion and death associated with a poorly sited wind turbine project, dodges hunting Merlins, Peregrine Falcons, and even gulls, and makes it up the Penobscot Bay and finds some brief respite as the sun rises.
Then, for reasons we are still unable to understand, instinct takes it further, rising with the light of the first glimmers of sun above the horizon and wings its way further inland. It launches from the last trees of Sears Island, but gusty winds and overhead predators keep it low. It then is slammed into the grill of a truck rushing over the causeway to get to work.
We don’t know how many birds could die this way, but we know many will. Others will collide with infrastructure, and under certain conditions, countless others will be exhausted, emaciated, and perhaps fall to their death due to disorientation from the bright lights of the new port – adding to the desperation of birds trying to exit Sears Island each morning.
Of course, with fewer birds, more traffic, and speeding vehicles, few if any birders will be here to document and enjoy the Morning Flight phenomenon. Fewer people buying breakfast in town, filling up their cars, and supporting conservation efforts on what is left of Sears Island. The destination will forever be changed, and it will no longer be welcoming to birders or birds.
Furthermore, this is just a terrible idea on paper, too, not just in avian hypotheticals. While it may be a little cheaper to destroy Sears Island, what happens when rising sea levels impact the causeway? There go the cost savings! Tens to hundreds of millions of dollars will likely be needed to repair it, as opposed to building resilience into the infrastructure of an existing and regionally important port nearby. How does any of this make sense?
Sacrificing one of the last undeveloped tracts of publicly owned open land on the entire coast when practical alternatives exist is irrational. Industrial development in the midst of one of the most significant concentrations of migratory birds in the state is immoral.
First, Maine fights to build a full-scale turbine at the densest concentrations of migratory birds and birders in the state, Monhegan Island. Then, we want to build a new port in the densest concentration of migratory birds in the Mid-Coast. Alternatives exist in both cases that would greatly minimize risk to birds, but those calls are ignored. Somehow, risks are maximized instead of minimized, in the pursuit of making marginal projects slightly more profitable. This is not “green” power, and this is not how to generate sustainable energy for the future.
We want to believe that wind energy development will be an important part of our future. But with an industry, regulatory authority, and policy makers that are more focused on a gold rush mentality than a practical and holistic approach to truly sustainable development, it’s hard to see a future where Maine has a cleaner grid, a healthy and sustainable environment, and has made a real difference in minimizing carbon emissions.
The future of humanity as we know it depends on protecting biodiversity. Instead, we once again find a plan to sacrifice it to (arguably) save a few bucks. Alternatives exist, one even right across the harbor! Sacrificing Sears Island and putting thousands of migratory birds at risk is unnecessary, and we strongly urge you to preclude Sears Island as the site for a new port to service offshore wind development that we hope will also be carefully considered to preserve biodiversity.
Derek and Jeannette Lovitch
Freeport Wild Bird Supply/Durham, ME