TRENTON — The Federal Aviation Administration’s approval of a plan to prevent seabirds from being attracted to a proposed 50-acre oyster farm in Goose Cove might have been based on “confusing, missing and/or false information,” area government officials said in a Nov. 19 letter to the FAA.
The letter to Michael O’Donnell, director of the FAA’s office of airports safety and standards, requested that the FAA reconsider its conclusion that the oyster cages would not attract birds that could pose a hazard to planes on their approach to the nearby Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport.
The letter was signed by Percy Brown Jr., chairman of the Hancock County Commissioners, Fred Ehrlenbach, chairman of the Trenton Board of Selectmen and Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt. The county commissioners and governing boards of both towns are on record opposing the oyster farm because of safety concerns.
The letter asks the FAA to recommend that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspend its permit for the oyster farm until the FAA can conduct a more complete review to determine whether the “wildlife hazard mitigation” measures that the FAA has approved are adequate.
Trenton resident Warren Pettegrow has been granted a lease by the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) for two 25-acre tracts in Goose Cove for his Acadia Sea Farms oyster growing operation. Pettegrow said in his lease application that he planned to raise as many as 10 million oysters in about 5,000 cages.
Pettegrow could not be reached for comment by press time.
In March of this year, the Army Corps issued a permit for the oyster farm following consultation with the FAA. But a group of local citizens and Airport Manager Brad Madeira, along with area elected officials, have questioned the thoroughness and accuracy of the FAA’s assessment of the potential seabird hazard.
On Oct. 28, representatives of Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King and Rep. Bruce Poliquin organized a meeting in Bangor with officials of the DMR, the Army Corps, FAA, Hancock County, Trenton and Mount Desert to discuss the process used in granting the oyster farm permit. Warren Pettegrow’s mother, Josette, also attended the meeting.
There were no official minutes of the meeting, but Trenton Selectman Sue Starr took extensive notes, which were attached to the Nov. 19 letter to the FAA’s safety director.
Her notes show that part of the discussion focused on the proposed method for cleaning the oyster cages and whether birds might be attracted during the cleaning process. She noted that the process would involve “flipping” the cages over and that a Canadian study has documented that cages such as the ones proposed for Goose Cove “act as a bird attractant when flipped.”
Amy Anderson, the FAA wildlife biologist who attended the Oct. 28 meeting, “seemed distressed in thinking of that possibility and clearly was not aware of this study data,” Starr wrote in her notes.
In summarizing her thoughts on what the meeting accomplished, she wrote: “It offered the opportunity to air the fallacies and loopholes, the half-measures and lack of due diligence that governed the final granting of a permit” for the oyster farm.
“Our hope had been that in the face of all of these questions and the clear safety hazard, the permit would be revoked,” she wrote. “The opposite resulted, with each agency as resolute as ever to stand by its work.”
In appealing to O’Donnell, the FAA safety director, to reevaluate the safety issues, Brown, Ehrlenbach and Lunt said in their Nov. 19 letter: “We are concerned that without sufficient and appropriate wildlife mitigation requirements in place, as well as a definition of the acceptable limits of increased bird activity in the area … that this [oyster farm] could create a significant public safety issue at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport.”
Madeira, the airport manager, drafted the letter at the request of the county commissioners.