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Hundreds Of Lobstermen Gather In Augusta To Protest Wind Energy Projects

Pierce Achorn (left) of Friendship holds a sign as Mike Yohe, CEO of Lobster 207, speaks at a rally in Augusta on Wednesday.
Fred Bever
Maine Public
Pierce Achorn (left) of Friendship holds a sign as Mike Yohe, CEO of Lobster 207, speaks at a rally in Augusta on Wednesday.

More than 400 fishermen and their supporters staged a protest in Augusta today against Gov. Janet Mills' support for wind projects proposed for waters off the coast of Maine. At the same time, the governor formally introduced a bill that would prohibit wind projects within three miles of the coast for 10 years.

Mills, the University of Maine and international wind energy companies are pushing two floating-platform wind projects: a single turbine off Monhegan Island to be deployed within two years, and a 12-turbine "research" array in offshore federal waters somewhere south of that, that could start being developed within five years.

The state’s fishing industries, led by lobstermen, are united in opposition. Hundreds turned out for a rally at the Augusta Civic Center, in an unusual show force on a good fishing day. Many bore homemade signs saying "Crush Mills," in a play on the term windmills and the governor's last name.

"The state's swift action towards endorsing the overseas corporate takeover of our historical fishing grounds has been disturbing to say the least," says Christopher McIntire, a Harpswell lobsterman.

McIntire expressed the feelings of many fishermen who are angered by the governor's support for floating wind platforms, a young technology for which impacts on ecosystems and fisheries are not well studied.

"Please don't let our government replace generational careers with short-term construction jobs," he says. "This is not another case of people saying, 'Not in my backyard,' because if the only two options were literally in the Gulf of Maine and my backyard, I'd choose my backyard. They don't belong out there into the ocean."

As the fishermen rallied, Mills issued a press release formally announcing a proposed 10-year moratorium on wind energy projects in state waters, which generally run from the shore to about three miles out. The majority of the state’s lobster fleet set their traps within that zone, and Mills says she proposed the temporary ban in response to the industry's concerns.

But many of those inshore lobstermen, like Clinton Collamore, who fishes out of Bremen, say wind projects farther out to sea will push offshore boats away from their traditional grounds.

"It's going to affect where other people fish. They're not going to be able to fish where they fish now, everyone's going to have to come in [to state waters]," he says, "and it's crowded enough."

The Mills administration declined requests for comment on both the moratorium legislation and the protest. A spokesman referred questions to the press release, which quoted the governor.

“Maine is uniquely prepared to grow a strong offshore wind industry, create good-paying trades and technology jobs around the state, and reduce Maine’s crippling dependence on harmful fossil fuels,” Mills said. “We will focus these efforts in federal waters farther off our coast, as we responsibly pursue a small research array that can help us establish the best way for Maine to embrace the vast economic and environmental benefits of offshore wind. Fundamentally, i do not believe offshore wind and Maine’s fishing industry are mutually exclusive. I believe they not only can coexist, but, together, can help us build a stronger economy with more good-paying jobs and a brighter, more sustainable future for Maine people.”

The release includes a supportive statement from a co-chair of the Legislature's Energy and Utilities Committee. And it includes statements of support from business groups whose members range from solar power purveyors such as ReVision Energy, to CMP's parent company Avangrid, the Cianbro construction company and the Shell energy corporation.

The press release did not include any comments from Maine's fishermen or maritime industries.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.