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State applies for $456 million federal grant to build wind port on Sears Island

Opponents who favor nearby Mack Point as the location for the terminal criticized the state, saying it is focusing the grant application on Sears Island before completing a study of both sites.

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The Mills administration said Friday that it’s seeking $456 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to build an offshore wind port at Sears Island, angering opponents who say the state is bypassing an alternative at nearby Mack Point before a study analyzing both sites has been concluded.

Gov. Janet Mills announced in February that Sears Island on Penobscot Bay is the preferred site to assemble and dispatch wind turbines to the Gulf of Maine. A study has begun that will assess Sears Island and Mack Point, said Paul Merrill, the spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

Mack Point is favored by many local residents because it already has an industrial area. Sears Island has been spared previous development attempts.

The state has said that port construction costs would be about $500 million. A May 2 letter from Doug Norman, chair of the Searsport Select Board, to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asking for his “strong consideration” of the project, said the cost is $760 million.

The remaining money will be from other federal, state and private sector lease payments, he said.

Norman did not respond Friday to a request for comment about his letter. Merrill said the grant application includes funding for a semi-submersible barge that would be used to transport components.

“If there’s a funding opportunity, we want to be considered,” he said.

The announcement that the state is seeking the money to develop Sears Island, with only a reference to “assessments of environmental impacts and alternative sites,” prompted criticism from a group that opposes the siting of an offshore wind terminal there.

“My candid opinion is they have not been upfront with any of the people,” said Rolf Olsen, vice president of the board of Friends of Sears Island, which manages a portion of the island set aside for conservation.

David Italiaander, a board member of Friends of Sears Island, believes the state has never considered Mack Point.

“I would submit it was that way from the beginning,” he said Friday. “We knew it would be Sears Island and always would be Sears Island.”


Merrill said the state has concluded that the Sears Island parcel is the “most feasible port development site in terms of location, logistics, cost and environmental impact. The conclusion followed an extensive public stakeholder process led by the Department of Transportation and the Maine Port Authority to consider the state’s primary port development options, including possible sites in the ports of Searsport, Eastport and Portland, he said.

The Mills administration said it prefers Sears Island because the state owns the 100-acre site that would be used for the wind port and it offers deep water access. Unlike Mack Point, Sears Island would not have to be dredged to accommodate a port.

The project has divided environmentalists who support Maine’s foray into wind power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but disagree on where to build a port to support the project. Several Republican lawmakers have spoken against wind energy and urged the state to not develop Sears Island.

Backers of the project say it will establish Maine in the offshore wind industry and “become a hub for job creation and economic development,” while helping to achieve state and federal renewable energy goals.

The port project is subject to “extensive and independent state and federal permitting processes,” including assessments of environmental impacts and alternative sites, the state Department of Transportation said.

The state will apply for permits later this year, providing opportunities for public comment. A decision on the grant is expected this year.

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