Public discourse over the fate of Sears Island intensified in recent months, as a state-run planning initiative began and a group of organizations released a new report outlining several economic development scenarios.

Conservationists and transportation interests clashed anew at the first open meeting of the state-led Sears Island Planning Initiative on May 30 at the First Congregational Church in Searsport.

Department of Conservation deputy commissioner Karin Tilberg has been charged with overseeing the statewide public discussion to develop a set of recommendations for the governor, the legislature’s transportation committee, and the Town of Searsport. Tilberg stressed that she would not be promoting any particular outcome, and would make an effort to ensure a “fair and transparent” process.

Despite this reassurance, some at the meeting immediately expressed their skepticism of the state’s establishment of a steering committee. Waldo County Commissioner John Hyk said, “We can come to consensus. The only thing that can foul it up is the State of Maine, by loading the steering committee.”

As a result of this and similar protests, the majority of the meeting was devoted to hearing from those who wished to be on the steering committee: permanent residents and seasonal residents and current “users” of Sears Island; members of Protect Sears Island, Coastal Mountains Land Trust, Islesboro Island Trust, Friends of Sears Island and Penobscot Bay Alliance.

Representatives of Earth First!, wearing red baseball caps with “Dump Baldacci” in white lettering, issued a polite warning that “there are a lot of people who are going to get in the way of this island being developed.”

Also present were the transportation interests, who until the May meeting had been largely absent from the debate: Jonathan Daniels of Eastern Maine Development Corporation, Maria Fuentes of Maine Better Transportation Association (who was disappointed that there weren’t more “port” interests at the meeting), John Melrose of Maine Tomorrow (who was commissioner of the Department of Transportation under former Maine Gov. Angus King).

Upon introducing himself, DOT commissioner David Cole said, “Our interest in the island is pretty clear to everyone here.” But clearly, it was not. When Dave Gelinas of the Penobscot Bay River Pilots Association referred to Sears Island as “a vital link in Maine’s seaport transportation infrastructure,” Nancy-Linn Nellis, chair of the Waldo County Marketing Association, asked, “Why are we suddenly talking about the port? I thought we were here to talk about the island. No one is trying to shut down the port,” referring to the shipping facility at Mack Point.

Marietta Ramsdell of Protect Sears Island also was bothered by the continual references to the port. “To assume that Sears Island is part of the port of Searsport is pre-conditioned,” she said.

Jonathan Reitman, who was hired to facilitate the meeting, acknowledged the mistrust in the room. “The things that are happening at Mack Point have a direct impact on what may or may not happen on Sears Island,” he said. The division between the transportation interests, and those who viewed the resurrection of Maine’s “three port strategy” as a fantasy from Augusta, wedged itself into the meeting and remained for the rest of the day.

Less than two weeks later, several local conservation organizations released a report entitled Sears Island: Options for the Future. The report outlines three different development scenarios for the island and the economic benefits of each, with the intent that “commitment of Sears Island to relatively undeveloped, recreational/cultural uses will remove a major uncertainty hanging over the area for decades.” The report can be downloaded at