The Federal Aviation Administration’s flip-flop in opposing, and then later signing off on, a planned 5,000-cage oyster farm near the end of the runway at the Hancock County Airport in Trenton is a classic bureaucratic boondoggle. It has all the hallmarks of the actions taken by an overworked clerk just trying to move some of the mound of paperwork off his or her desk.
Particularly disturbing was the fact that the agency apparently based the reversal of its recommendation to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a single wildlife study, conducted by a college student, submitted after the public comment period on a license for the aquaculture operation had closed.
Opponents, which include the towns of Mount Desert and Trenton, Hancock County Commissioners and airport officials, as well as numerous concerned citizens, have not been provided a chance to respond. Their questions might have shed light on the study’s completeness, thoroughness and accuracy.
To date, the FAA has avoided any opportunity to explain its decisions, which have enormous potential for affecting the safety of the more than 10,000 people who use that airport annually.
Members of Maine’s congressional delegation have remained neutral, so far, but facilitated earlier meetings bringing the various factions together in an attempt to sort things out.
Last Friday, the county commissioners voted to ask the Army Engineers to suspend the issuance of the permit until FAA officials can better explain their rationale. A suspension also would give opponents a fair chance to address any concerns they may have concerning the wildlife report.
While Maine Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, as well as Rep. Bruce Poliquin, rightfully want to avoid inserting themselves into the midst of a federal agency’s permitting process, their support of the commissioners’ request for suspension of the Army Corp of Engineers permit would help assure that the FAA actions are not as arbitrary as might appear.