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Making Waves for a Healthier Casco Bay: A Legislative Recap

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca makes a passionate case for the health of Casco Bay.

Every year, Friends of Casco Bay spends time at the State House working to help pass laws that make Casco Bay healthier and safer. We team up with the Maine Environmental Priorities Coalition (EPC), which includes 34 groups. As a Coalition, we pick out important issues and support laws that fight climate change; make sure everyone is treated fairly, keep our land, water, and animals safe; and promote healthy communities in Maine. Ultimately, being part of the EPC helps Casco Bay because we can share our knowledge and work together to achieve more than we could on our own. 

This year we worked on issues ranging from giving people a voice on aquaculture leasing and encouraging climate resiliency to stopping the rollback of our PFAS protections and supporting the self-determination of Wabanaki Nations in our greater Maine community.

Here is a roundup of bills we worked on this legislative session: 

 

Empowering Communities to Have a Voice

LD 2065: An Act to Amend Maine’s Aquaculture Leasing Laws

photo credit: Timothy Brokaw

As it was first drafted, this bill would have required 25 people to request a hearing for certain aquaculture leases, rather than five, the current requirement. We agreed that the state needed to raise the number, but we thought 25 was too high and restrictive. We suggested they lower it to 10 instead. Lawmakers agreed with us. The Outcome: A win! This bill empowers concerned people to responsibly ask for hearings. 

 

Balancing Housing Needs with Environmental Preservation 

LD 1134: An Act to Improve Housing Affordability by Amending the Definition of “Subdivision” Under the Site Location of Development Laws

This bill aimed to change how housing developments are reviewed under Maine’s Site Location of Development Act. The proposed changes would have exempted a significant number of subdivisions from environmental review by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This review is crucial for balancing development with environmental conservation. If the changes had passed, it could have had serious negative effects for our watershed. Thankfully, we collaborated with other organizations to defeat this bill. The Outcome: Success! We opposed this bill and it was defeated.

 

Supporting Tribal Sovereignty

LD 2007: An Act Regarding the Criminal Jurisdiction of Tribal Courts

Wabanaki Nations in Maine have served as the original stewards of this land and of Casco Bay, beginning more than 12,000 years ago, and today, although there are no official tribal lands on the shores of Casco Bay, Wabanaki people still live within the watershed. An important part of Wabanaki culture is protecting our air, land, and waters. It is in partnership to those values that we support tribal sovereignty. LD 2007 was first called “An Act to Advance Self-determination for Wabanaki Nations.” The original idea was to give tribes more rights, like managing fishing and hunting on their own land. The final law that passed wasn’t as robust as the original version, but it still moved things in the right direction. The Outcome: An incremental win. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but it’s a step closer to giving tribes more self-determination and autonomy.

 

Creating Climate Resilient Communities

LD 2225 An Act to Provide Funding to Rebuild Infrastructure Affected by Extreme Inland and Coastal Weather Events

Flooding at the Falmouth Town Landing, December 2022.

We threw our support behind LD 2225, an emergency bill sparked by the havoc wreaked by recent winter storms. This legislation aimed to earmark $30 million for the restoration of critical infrastructure like docks and piers utilized by the fishing and aquaculture industries. Beyond the coast, it planned to fund adaptation, repair and improvement projects to fortify our communities against future storms, ensuring public safety and bolstering our economy. As the bill made its way through the legislative process, the Senate added provisions for mental health and social support programs. Despite our hopes, the bill failed to secure funding and ultimately died on the table. The Outcome: A disappointing loss.

 

Holding PFAS Manufacturers Accountable

LD 1960: An Act to Give Manufacturers More Time to Report PFAS in Products

PFAS can be found in many common products

This bill was about giving manufacturers of products with harmful PFAS chemicals more time to report their use to the DEP. We opposed this bill. PFAS chemicals persist in the environment and do not break down. PFAS-laden sludge has been spread on farms in our watershed. PFAS is also present in other land-based sources that leak into our waterways. The levels of PFAS in the lower Presumpscot River are high enough that Maine CDC advises eating no more than four fish a year from that section. We believe it is important to know which products have these chemicals so we can stop using them or prevent them from getting into our waters. The Outcome: Our opposition to the bill paid off—LD 1960 didn’t pass. Victory!

 

Protecting Critical Seaweed Habitats

LD 2003: An Act to Protect Access to Maine’s Intertidal Zone

You might think we would support a bill with a title like this, but we opposed its intent. A recent case brought to Maine’s Supreme Court clarified that rockweed, a critical habitat, couldn’t be harvested from the intertidal zone without landowner permission. This ruling allowed land trusts and landowners to protect this habitat. However, LD 2003 aimed to overturn this decision, claiming that harvesting rockweed is fishing. If passed, it would have allowed rockweed harvesting anywhere, regardless of landowner wishes or habitat importance. Given that rockweed is vital for a healthy Casco Bay, we stood against this bill. The Outcome: Success! We fought against this law, and it didn’t pass.

 

Advocating for Maine’s Coastal Dunes

LD 2266: An Act Regarding Restoration and Protection of Coastal Sand Dune Systems and Permitting of an Offshore Wind Terminal on Sears Island 

In February, Governor Mills announced that Sears Island was her preferred site for building an offshore wind development terminal. Following that announcement, the State learned that the proposed site has sand dunes and at least one of those dunes would be destroyed during construction. State law does not allow development in sand dunes. To address this problem, this bill was introduced. It originally would have granted an exception to the law and authorized the State to grant a permit for an offshore wind terminal located in any coastal sand dune system. We testified against the bill. The bill was then narrowed to allow a one-time exception to the law for construction of an offshore wind terminal on Sears Island, if the terminal met all other environmental requirements. To compensate for the harm to the sand dunes, the amended bill created a million-dollar fund to be used for sand dune restoration. This is not ideal, but is much better than the original bill. The Outcome: We have mixed feelings about this tradeoff. On the one hand, we urgently need to develop clean energy sources like offshore wind. On the other, how do we minimize or avoid harm to our coastal and marine environments? Avoiding harm is at the heart of our advocacy.