By Judith Burger-Gossart
I attended the Acadia Aqua Farms hearings to learn more about the de Koning proposal.
Day one, March 28: Present were 80 members of the public who attended via their phones or computers, plus 10 people who attended the hearing in person.
Fiona and Alex de Koning earnestly and enthusiastically presented their case for the lease of a 45-acre mussel aquafarm in Frenchman’s Bay between Googins Ledge and Leland Point. The site is in intimate proximity to MDI Biological Laboratory (MDIBL). The de Konings deny this project would cause navigational hazards or cause noise and light pollution in the area. They deny that the water in the bay would exacerbate sound levels. They reported observing, on numerous occasions, only a few lobster buoys within the proposed area. They catalogued all the efforts they had made to sound-proof their boat. They offered no expert witnesses to corroborate their views or opinions. The de Konings already have a 150-acre lease for aquaculture in Frenchman Bay.
After their presentation, one was left with the impression that this mussel industrial park would be almost noiseless, almost invisible, not impact the lobstermen in any real way; only routine lighting, required by the Department of Marine Resources (DMR), would be used. Navigational impact would be minimal. It was unclear how often their boat would be in the area: perhaps twice a year for two weeks or as much as three days a week. Who knows? They could not say.
MDIBL gave a rebuttal. President Dr. Herman Haller, four senior scientists and animal behaviorists, and others at the lab raised deep concern about this project. As Dr. Haller noted, this is a grave threat to the laboratory; “we cannot run a scientific research facility next to a factory.” Studies show noise and vibrations are stressful not only to humans but to tiny, sometimes microscopic, research animals. The stress on specimens is a factor the lab diligently works to mitigate. There are many unknowns. How will the power washing machine noise and the mussel harvesting machine noise affect the delicate research animals? This is a living laboratory using organisms that are exquisitely prone to stress from noise and other environmental factors.
The MDIBL, over 100 years old, now a multi-million-dollar institution, is recognized worldwide for its high standards of research. This factory has the potential to compromise their scientific work. The laboratory has approximately 50 employees, plus a robust educational program for visiting scientists and students from around the world. All this is needlessly put at risk.
Day two, March 29: There were 28 registered members of the public, most testified. Three or four were in support of the de Koning project, the rest strongly opposed.
The harbormaster of the Lamoine State Park marina, the director of Protect Maine Fisheries and approximately a dozen lobstermen, women and a teenager testified; all have their boats at the marina. They disputed the de Koning testimony of only a few lobster buoys within the site. Witness after witness testified that the proposed lease would essentially close the bay to fishing from Googins Ledge to Hadley Point, a much greater area than the already massive 45-acre proposal. Why? Fishing this area would prove too risky due to trap, buoy and rope entanglement in the hanging nets. At well over $100 for a trap and gear, the risk would be unsustainable.
Navigational hazards were a major concern, squeezing boat traffic into a narrow passage between the Red Nun and the proposed site. Lobstermen use the marina, tourist and local recreational vessels are there in the summer, a local boat builder uses the site to test the sea worthiness of expensive vessels. It is a busy place.
I stand with the lobstermen, MDIBL and the local residents who live on the shore of Frenchman Bay. I urge DMR to reject this proposed mussel farm factory.
Judith Burger-Gossart lives in Salsbury Cove.