Maine’s Sears Island Causeway Permit Probed

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEIslesboro Islands Trust and PEER logos
Thursday, May 2, 2024
Kyla Bennett [PEER], (508) 230-9933
Stephen Miller [IIT], (207) 734-6907


Maine’s Sears Island Causeway Permit Probed

Possible Missing Culvert Could Be a Permit Violation


Washington, DC — A 40-year-old permit is under scrutiny and may be yet another fly in the ointment for plans to develop Sears Island into a logistical hub for future floating offshore wind facilities, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Islesboro Islands Trust (IIT). The permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) authorizing the Maine Department of Transportation (MEDOT) to build a “bridge” connecting Sears Island to the mainland was premised upon it including a two-foot diameter culvert, but that culvert may never have been constructed.

The purpose of the culvert was to allow water to flow between Stockton Harbor and Long Cove. However, no such culvert is visible today, and environmental damage from the lack of tidal exchange was noted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies as far back as 1995. As a result, the causeway itself – the island’s only land access – may be vulnerable to a new legal challenge. A successful challenge could further complicate plans to transform Sears Island into a wind farm support hub.

A letter sent today by PEER and IIT to both the Corps, which issued the permit to MEDOT back in 1984, and the U.S. Coast Guard, asks for proof that the culvert was constructed as required by the permit. The letter reveals that –

  • A reporter claimed in 1988 that the culvert was never constructed;
  • A video from this spring shows no evidence of the culvert; and
  • Even if the culvert was installed, it is not functioning as envisioned, and the resulting significant environmental damage must be addressed.

In its ultimately unsuccessful attempts in the 1990s to develop Sears Island into an industrial port facility, MEDOT was unable to overcome the combined opposition of the EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Those federal resource agencies determined that the causeway directly destroyed 3.7 acres of marine shellfish habitat, and this impact was exacerbated by the lack of tidal flow. It is unlikely that a solid-fill causeway would be permitted today.

“Legally, MEDOT may not reap benefits if it violated this permit,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, an attorney and scientist formerly with EPA who was part of the permit review and the enforcement actions that prevented MEDOT from turning Sears Island into a port in the 1990s. “We need to know if the culvert was ever constructed, and if so, why it never functioned properly.”

“If the Sears Island causeway was not built according to the terms of the long-ago issued permit, the State of Maine must remedy the harm caused by these many years of tidal restriction,” said Stephen Miller, Executive Director of Islesboro Islands Trust. “If true, this adds to the long list of failures by the State of Maine to properly account for the environment when pursuing development of Sears Island.”

PEER and IIT are part of a coalition of groups considering litigation to stop the development of Sears Island. The groups point to the availability of an already developed expandable facility at nearby Mack Point, a site that does not carry the heavy environmental baggage attached to Sears Island.


Read PEER and IIT letter to Coast Guard and Army Corps 

Walk the Causeway 

Revisit Sears Island tangled legal history

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