For years, Penobscot Bay fishermen and other boaters have relied on a government-run weather monitoring station at Matinicus Rock. It spewed out data available via Internet on any home computer, and many lobstermen checked it before heading out to sea or, depending on conditions, deciding to stay home.

Last year, the station went off line. Now the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has indicated a temporary station will be operating by March 31.

Matinicus lobsterman and Fire Chief Robert Young said he was among many people who complained about the Matinicus Rock Coastal Marine Automated Network (C-MAN) station being down. “It’s nice to know what the wind’s doing. It’s a safety issue.”

“It’s extremely helpful. I don’t know any fisherman who doesn’t use it,” said Tom Bernardi, who has worked as a lobster boat sternman while living on Matinicus. “The wind at the Rock, that’s usually a worst-case scenario,” he said. When winds are 20 knots closer to Rockland, they can be 35 knots at Matinicus Rock, he said.

Following the complaints, a temporary station will be installed on the ledgy outermost island, home to a colony of rare puffins and an historic, now-automated lighthouse.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, whose home is on the island of North Haven, wrote to the Administrator of NOAA, Jane Lubchenco, urging her to do something about the off-line station at Matinicus Rock.

In a January 11 letter, Lubchenco wrote back saying a temporary weather station would be installed with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard, by the end of March. NOAA is working with the Coast Guard to “schedule the necessary helicopter flight operations at the earliest opportunity that weather and their operational schedule will permit,” Lubchenco wrote.

Lubchenco stated in her letter that the station has not worked since July 2009, but local fishermen say it went off line a year ago. In her December 2009 letter, Pingree wrote that the station had not generated wind data for the past 10 months.

Bernardi said the C-MAN station provides vital information: “It is extremely important. It is checked as early as 3 in the a.m. for wind speed, gusts and direction. It is surely missed, and has been for some time.”

Repairs could not be made due to an unsafe walkway on the lighthouse, Lubchenco wrote.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to complete repairs to the lighthouse walkway between December 2010 and March 2011, at which point NOAA will maintain a permanent weather station there.

Young, a U.S. Navy veteran, said he is used to bureaucracy and the chain of command, but he wonders why “you couldn’t just send a carpenter out there” to fix the walkway.

Steve Cartwright is a freelance writer who lives in Waldoboro.