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Unions Applaud Site Selection Recommendation for Offshore Wind Port

Andy O’Brien
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Last week, the Maine Department of Transportation announced its decision to recommend to the federal government that a new port be built on state- owned land on Sears Island for the development of offshore wind. MDOT came up with its recommendation after engaging a broad range of stakeholders and conducting a comprehensive environment and economic analysis of a number of potential sites, including Sears Island and Mack Point.

“We applaud Governor Mills’ decision to select Sears Island for the construction, manufacturing, and deployment of offshore wind,” said Cynthia Phinney, President of the Maine AFL-CIO. “This site offers the amount of space required for the development of commercial wind projects, while protecting valuable fishing grounds upon which many local families depend. A coalition of union leaders and workers, environmental organizations, environmental justice communities, and youth climate leaders fought hard to ensure that this project will provide good jobs with family-sustaining wages and benefits, as well as many training opportunities for a diverse workforce of the future."

Once constructed, the port will facilitate work for decades in an area that has suffered the devastating impacts of shuttered industries. The selection of Sears Island for an offshore wind port is the first step in the federal permitting process, but many more decisions must be made about how and on what terms this port is built and operated.

Matt Pender, an electrician and IBEW 1253 member who lives in Searsport, also applauded the decision.

“I live in Searsport. My wife and 17 month old daughter are raising our family here. A new offshore wind port will mean good jobs for our community, a path to the middle class for more families and a better future for my daughter and yours,” he said. “It’s time that Maine can take control of its energy need and develop homegrown sources of energy that we can produce here. With offshore wind, we can be energy independent, and that really matters. For my daughter’s sake, I know that we need to do everything we can to fight back against climate change, and one of the best ways we can do that is to develop offshore wind energy.”

Pender said that he wants more workers to have opportunities for union careers close to home.

Phinney added that it is imperative that working people and local communities have their voices heard, through a community benefits agreement, on issues such as investments in local schools and infrastructure, the use of clean and quiet port equipment, recreational access to Sears Island, investments in ecological mitigation and coastal resilience, and commitments to local hire, training, and job quality.

Sears Island the Best Choice for an Offshore Wind Port

The selection of Sears Island for a new offshore wind port will ensure there is ample space for the development of commercial wind turbines, while protecting valuable fishing grounds that fishing families depend on. Had the MDOT chosen Mack Point for the site, it would have required costly shoreline dredging and offshore disposal that would certainly have harmed water quality and marine habitats.

At the same time, developing a port of this size could have impacts on fisheries due to increased vessel traffic, widening of the federal navigation channel, noise and lighting, or alteration of the shoreline. It's critical that the state and federal governments ensure that commercial fishing organizations, including Maine Lobstering Union (IAM 207), continue to have a meaningful seat at the table throughout the port permitting and development process to ensure the best outcomes and so that fishermen are included in the negotiation of any community benefit agreements associated with this project.

The proposed port infrastructure is critical for the deployment of offshore wind projects and will yield significant economic benefits for the community, region and state. Last year, legislators, the Mills Administration, the Maine AFL-CIO, Maine Labor Climate Council, the Maine Building Trades and environmental organizations reached a compromise on a law that will responsibly develop offshore wind in the Gulf of Maine and encourage new deepwater port construction while maintaining strong standards to ensure good-paying jobs for Maine workers, protections for wildlife, avoidance of important fishing grounds, broad stakeholder engagement, and inclusive community benefits.