Bar Harbor Battle — Oysters v. Aviation Safety — what wins FAA?

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NIMBYs are usually attacking airports for noise, air pollution, ground traffic and a whole host of evils attributable, allegedly, to these transportation nods. Not so Hancock County, the City of Trenton and nearby Bar Harbor. The local citizens have come to the defense of their airport, Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport, which has seen more than one POTUS (#41, 43 and 44) visit BHB on Air Force One. The target of their opposition is Acadia Sea Farms Inc, a 50 acre oyster farm in Goose Cove. Shucks, what the s’hell is wrong?

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The story is long and tortuous. The proposed leasehold owner, Mr. Warren Pettegrow, first applied for a permit from the Maine Department of Marine Resources in 2011. A condition on the proposed lease was that the Acadia Sea Farm must obtain the consent of the Army Corps of Engineers (CoE). The protector of farm only 1.5 miles from the end of the main runway in Trenton; the other would be 2.1 miles away. The presence of 5,000 cages,10 Million shells, would attract birds and pose a substantial aviation safety to the aircraft by the seagulls attracted to the oysters.

The initial DMR response was to defer to the US Corps of Engineers. In 2011 its New England Chief of Permits and Enforcement Branch wrote saying that the FAA opposed the farm on the basis of safety.

The next iteration was a CoE letter in 2012 to Mr. Pettegrow’s lawyer from a CoE project manager requesting that the Acadia Sea Farm commission a study “’to determine a baseline estimate of the number of seabirds likely to be found within the project area.’ The study would have to be repeated every year for three years following installation of the oyster cages.” A student from the College of the Atlantic under the direction of a professor completed a study “to assist in determining whether the proposed facility is likely to attract or does attract significant numbers of gulls, to an extent that such an increase could pose a hazard to aircraft…”

The study appears to have satisfied the DMR, the CoE and the FAA; for the permits were issued.  The CoE added a condition (Maybe more requirements? The public record is unclear and incomplete.) that “oyster grow-out cages and floats will remain entirely below the water surface at all times, except for routine maintenance, seeding, harvesting and processing of oysters.” The undisclosed study must have been convincing and included some significant conditions.

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FAA AC 150-5300 33B, Hazardous Wildlife Attractants On or Near Airports seems to strongly advise against the juxtaposition of such a hazard to an airport. Here are the relevant sections:

“2-6.   AGRICULTURAL ACTIVITIES.

  1. Aquaculture activities (i.e. catfish or trout production) conducted outside of fully enclosed buildings are inherently attractive to a wide variety of birds. Existing aquaculture facilities/activities within the separations listed in Sections 1-2 through 1-4 must have a program developed to reduce the attractiveness of the sites to species that are hazardous to aviation safety. Airport operators should also oppose the establishment of new aquaculture facilities/activities within the separations listed in Sections 1-2 through 1-4.

SECTION 1. 

GENERAL SEPARATION CRITERIA FOR HAZARDOUS WILDLIFE ATTRACTANTS ON OR NEAR AIRPORTS.

1-4.     PROTECTION OF APPROACH, DEPARTURE, AND CIRCLING AIRSPACEFor all airports, the FAA recommends a distance of 5 statute miles between the farthest edge of the airport’s AOA and the hazardous wildlife attractant if the attractant could cause hazardous wildlife movement into or across the approach or departure airspace.

The saga continues for the project; the NIMBYs have appealed the approval to the Maine Congressional delegation. Though Senators and Congresspersons have no direct power over the FAA, they have been known to influence close decisions. In particular, they are most comfortable advocating safety, as with this case.

It will be interesting to see whether economic development or aviation safety prevails. In a recent case, the need for a garbage dump, which attracts many birds, won over aviation safety in New York.

 

ARTICLE: Foes claim oyster farm will be aviation hazard

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