Public safety is at risk

By Patricia Banach

I am writing in support of the Islander‘s recent editorial concerning the Goose Cove Oyster Farm, aptly titled “Bureaucratic Boondoggle.” However, I feel that may be a rather charitable description of a situation that is far more disturbing in the way it has evolved. A 50-acre oyster farm with 5,000 cages is being approved by the Army Corps of Engineers contrary to FAA regulations concerning proximity to the main runway at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport.

This approval comes despite a letter dated June 20, 2011, from Frank J. Del Giudice, chief, Permits & Enforcement Branch, Regulatory Division of the Dept. of the Army, New England District Corps of Engineers to Warren Pettegrow of Acadia Sea Farms stating:

“The FAA New England Region Airport Capacity Program Manager and the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport Manager have recently submitted letters (see attached) of determination that the proposed cages are considered ‘wildlife attractants, particularly to birds, and the birds will pose a direct threat to the safety of the public both in the air and on the ground.’ This determination is supported by recent wildlife surveys conducted at and in the vicinity of the airport by Loomacres Wildlife Management.

“The Corps places great importance on the comments of a sister federal agency, particularly one with clear authority, regulations and policies related to public safety. Given the receipt of the FAA determination that the installation of the proposed OysterGro cages below the mean high-water line of Goose Cove represent a wildlife attractant, and that wildlife further represents a hazard to the operations of airport traffic, the issuance of a permit by the corps for the proposed project at the Goose Cove location appears contrary to the public interest, and therefore, is highly unlikely.

“…We strongly recommend that you withdrawn [sic] your application. …The alternative to withdrawal, the direction we appear headed in, is a denial with prejudice.”

Yet, on March 6, the Army Corps of Engineers reversed its position with no public notice and decided to grant the permit to Pettegrow for the 50-acre oyster farm.

What happened? Was their new finding based on the “study” performed by a College of the Atlantic undergrad under the supervision of a professor who was on sabbatical at the time the study was being conducted? A study that the professor himself admitted had “missing data.”

Is this the study that will determine that it is safe to fly planes in and out of the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport? Is this study more valid than the professional written advice of Loomacres Wildlife Management? (“Since 2005, Loomacres Wildlife Management’s primary mission has been to provide airfields and municipalities with the highest quality of wildlife management consulting available. Loomacres Wildlife Management was the first private company to be approved by the FAA to perform Wildlife Hazard Management services on airfields. Created by Airport Wildlife Biologists, Loomacres Inc. has more FAA qualified biologists on staff than any other firm in the country.)

Moreover, even if this study has any merit concerning the number of birds observed, what is the value of counting birds when the attracting factor (the floating oyster bags) is not there?

To put it another way, it is like counting the number of ants you see on your sidewalk when it is clean. Not too many. But how many ants do you see after you drop a bag of potato chips? Hundreds!

Shall we conduct an experiment with human lives in the balance? Should we place the 5,000 cages in the flight path and see if the birds come?

In academic circles, this is called “human subjects research” and must be approved by the institutional review board at any University conducting such research. No institutional review board will approve a study that puts lives at risk. It is unethical and not permitted. So why are we going to take this chance with our local airport? We all have seen what a bird strike can do to a large commercial passenger plane. It was truly a miracle that Captain C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger landed his bird-damaged plane in the Hudson.

How about a bird strike on a small plane of the type that flies in and out of the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport every day, all day long? I have watched these planes fly overhead for 28 years, and they are not large planes.

Also very disturbing in this whole story is who commissioned and paid for the bird study done by the College of the Atlantic student. It was Pettegrow’s attorney, Doug Chapman. This reminds me of cigarette companies funding tobacco research. The research may be valid, but it needs to be closely scrutinized as to its scientific rigor.

Generally that means “peer review” by other objective scholars. Was that done here? Also needing closer scrutiny is the fact that one of the conditions of the Army Corps’ recent approval, as reported in The Ellsworth American, is that the bird study continue. When Chapman was asked if he suggested that condition to the Army Corps, he could not remember, saying it was a long time ago.

Lives are at stake in this decision. Whose concerns should take precedence? One man’s desire to place a 50-acre oyster farm in the flight path of the local airport? Or the welfare and safety of the residents, business people and visitors who use the airport daily? Maine has 3,478 miles of coastline, but Goose Cove, in the path of the airport, is the only place this oyster farm can be sited? Why are we taking this chance contrary to the FAA’s original recommendation and their conflicting data prepared by an Airport Wildlife Biologist at Loomacres Wildlife Management? How did we get from the Army Corps of Engineers strongly encouraging Pettegrow to withdraw his application to the approval of the project with no public comment or advance notice?

This oyster farm project needs to be stopped now, and a lot more needs to be known about how and why this decision to proceed was made.

Patricia S. Banach is a resident of Trenton and Somers, Conn.



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