The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is standing by its decision not to oppose the creation of an oyster farm in Goose Cove, about a mile-and-a-half southwest of the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport.
Opponents of the proposed aquaculture operation fear that the oyster cages would attract seagulls, which could pose a hazard to planes taking off and landing.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, after consulting with the FAA, issued a permit last March to Acadia Sea Farms, owned by Trenton resident Warren Pettegrow, for a 50-acre oyster farm. Pettegrow has said he plans to raise as many as 10 million oysters in about 5,000 cages.
The Hancock County Commissioners and the town boards in Trenton and Mount Desert voted last fall to ask the FAA to recommend that the Army Corps suspend its permit pending a more complete assessment of whether “wildlife hazard mitigation” measures are adequate.
Airport manager Brad Madeira drafted the letter to the FAA, which was signed by Percy “Joe” Brown, chairman of the county commissioners, Trenton Board of Selectman Chairman Fred Ehrlenbach and Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt.
In a Feb. 16 response to that letter, Michael O’Donnell, the FAA’s director of airports safety and standards, wrote that he was “maintaining the FAA’s decision not to object to the permit at this time.”
Oyster farm opponents had cited FAA safety guidelines that discourage the location of aquaculture operations within five miles of an airport.
O’Connell said in his letter that, since the FAA issued that advisory several years ago, “Additional research has occurred showing some agriculture and aquaculture practices are not as attractive to hazardous wildlife as previously thought, and projects are now evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”
O’Connell said one of the FAA’s wildlife biologists visited the site and worked closely with the Army Corps in evaluating the potential for seabirds to pose a hazard to aviation.
“We do not have evidence that the aquaculture project will cause an increase in wildlife … in this area,” he wrote. “We determined that the aquaculture operation’s mitigation plan and the conditions included in the [Army Corp’s] permit adequately address any potential safety issue.”
O’Connell assured the county and town officials that the FAA and Army Corps “will closely monitor the project to ensure the conditions are being followed and that aquaculture operations do not become a bird strike hazard.”
“If conditions are not being followed, or it appears birds may become a strike hazard as a result of the farm, the FAA and [Army Corps] will work together to revoke the permit.”
But the Trenton Board of Selectmen is still not satisfied. Board members voted unanimously last week to send a letter to O’Connell expressing their belief that the FAA “fell short of its due diligence with regard to public safety.”
The letter, signed by Ehrlenbach, stated, “We consider the overwhelming evidence indicating increased potential risk to our citizens as outweighing the potential gain this oyster farm may offer to one commercial entity.”
The selectmen said that they would continue to oppose the oyster farm until the FAA “causes the [Army Corps] permit to be withdrawn” or offers “concrete evidence that this aquaculture endeavor in Goose Cove will not increase risk to Trenton.”
Pettegrow did not return calls for comment on his plans for starting the aquaculture operation.
He first proposed the oyster farm in 2010. In January 2012, the Maine Department of Marine Resources granted him a five-year lease on two 25-acre tracts in Goose Cove on the condition that the Army Corps also approve the aquaculture operation.