Two recent reports in the October issue of The Working Waterfront, “Searsport’s Mack Point is pivot in Maine’s port strategy” and the editorial, “Searsport’s Mack Point is critical to Maine’s future,” suggest that any and all port development at Mack Point is good. However, inappropriate development poses a significant threat to our marine-based economy.

We take it as something of a given that Mack Point provides worthwhile commerce. It seems fair that the existing level of trade at Mack Point continues and perhaps even experiences some modest increase. Yet the “any and all port growth is good” message of the two pieces, without discussing desirable kinds and levels of growth, is dangerous.

A case in point: Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers propose dredging an unprecedented, nearly one million cubic yards from Searsport Harbor, expanding and deepening the entry, creating a new turning basin next to the new pier and deepening the area next to the four docking sites associated with the two piers.

We know of no one opposed to maintenance dredging for Mack Point. Maintaining the status quo, providing for modest increased trade using the same size vessels that currently call at Mack Point, is not controversial and could be undertaken in an ecologically sound manner, depositing most or all of the 37,000 cubic yards of material at a safe, upland location.

It is the other approximately 900,000 cubic yards of material, much of it to be removed from areas never before dredged, that rankles. First, there is no public need for this massive, new dredging. Second, the dredging and deposition of the spoils threatens an abundance of fish and other marine species, including lobsters. Third, Maine DOT publicly acknowledges that this dredging is part of a plan to develop Sears Island. Fourth, proposed dredging depths (40 feet at the Mack Point/Sears Island approach and 45 feet at the Mack Point piers) would make Penobscot Bay open to extraordinary marine traffic and essentially unrestricted industrial development.

The report, “A Threatened Bay: Challenges to the Future of the Penobscot Bay Region and its Communities” (available at points to Penobscot Bay’s $850 million annual marine-dependent economic engine. In that study, the Island Institute succinctly and accurately reports that ecology is the economic driver for Penobscot Bay. Penobscot Bay residents use the region’s unique environmental assets to support “a marine-based economy of fishing, sailing and tourism” and have been doing so for 5,000 years as a special, sacred place for human inhabitants.

This marine-based economy depends on the health of the bay, not simply its existence. Preserving the ecological integrity of the bay is far more than a matter of aesthetic; it is a matter of economics for the entire region. Economic activity should be at minimal impact to the bay’s ecosystem.

Dredging destroys the seafloor, kills aquatic life and generates huge amounts of waste that is harmful where disposed. Both Zone C and D lobstermen expressed grave concern, recalling that lobsters avoid the Rockland dredge disposal site.

The proposed dredging would strike a severe blow to the bay’s ecosystem. But the dredging would not be the end of it. Dredging literally clears a path for much more heavy industrial and commercial activity that will be far more disruptive. The dredging will deepen areas of the bay in order to allow for much larger ships than currently visit Pen Bay. The size and quantity of large ships will be disruptive to anyone using the bay and this activity is incompatible with lobstering, sailing, fishing, tourism and our current way of life.

The threat is to more than the floor of the bay and fisheries; dredging will threaten our vibrant regional economy. The goal should be to preserve the health and heritage of the bay, along with the economic activity that depends on the bay’s health.

The communities of Penobscot Bay thrive precisely because we actively protect the rich ecosystem around us. Our communities—and our economies—depend on the health of the bay. This does not imply that industrial activities are necessarily incompatible with the bay; rather that protection of the bay’s ecosystem is a fundamental requirement of any new activity.

If an economic activity damages (or risks damage to) the bay, it encroaches on the interests of the rest of the bay’s residents. For this reason, the ecological health of the bay must always come first as a prerequisite to economic development. Protecting the bay means that economic development will be meaningful for everyone, and not simply a tradeoff to the communities’ detriment.

Stephen Miller is executive director of the Islesboro Island Trust and lives on Islesboro.