Sears Island, known as Wassumkeag or shining beach by the indigenous Wabanaki tribes of northern New England, is located off the coast of Searsport in Waldo County, Maine at the top of Penobscot Bay. The island is the largest undeveloped, uninhabited, causeway-accessible island on the eastern coast of the United States. It is 940 acres (3.8 km2) in area. It is part of the Town of Searsport.
History and Geography of Sears Island
Named after David Sears of Boston after he agreed to grant a large sum of money towards founding of Searsport, Sears Island is currently state-owned land, but is part of the town of Searsport. Formerly it had been known as Brigadier's Island.
A causeway was built approximately 20 years ago upon what formerly was a tidal bar. At high tide Sears Island was a true island, and at low tide the exposed gravel bar allowed for easy access. Locals would drive over at low tide, always careful to return in time, lest they would have to wade or swim and leave the car stranded until the next tide. Several generations ago there were farms on the island. Only stone cellar holes and a few small fields remain today.
Sears Island acts as a great element barrier for one of the most well-protected harbors in the state of Maine, Stockton Harbor, an attractive anchorage both for the protection it offers, and its convenience to upper Penobscot Bay towns Searsport, Belfast and Castine. Bar Harbor is about an hour car ride east, and both Camden and Bangor are about a half-hour south and north, respectively. Sears Island also offers spectacular views of Cape Jellison. It is home to numerous species of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians and plant life. The shallow shoal off the west side of the island supports meadows of eelgrass (Zostera marina) and other nursery habitats and features that play an important role in the fish and shellfish populations of greater Penobscot Bay.
The possible industrial development of the island has been a point of controversy for many years. Writer E. B. White, a resident of nearby Brooklin, Maine, noted in a 1975 essay for the New Yorker that he had attended an evening forum about a Central Maine Power Company proposal to construct a nuclear power plant on Sears Island. White reported to New Yorker readers that the Central Maine Power Company "feels very good about nuclear generating plants, is not worried about radiation or accidents." In response to a goat farmer, their spokesman acknowledged radioactive "iodine can contaminate milk . . . [b]ut he was cheerful about the prospect. You would simply put the animals on a controlled diet, he said, and after about forty days the radioactivity would be gone." Facing local opposition, the plant was not built.
Since the 1980s, successive Maine governors have promoted the development of the island as a general cargo port (Joseph Brennan, John McKernan), a wood-chip port (Angus King), an LNG terminal (John Baldacci, 1st term), and an intermodal freight transport hub for global container ship traffic (Baldacci's 2nd term).
A three-year-long consensus-driven effort by Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) and its Sears Island Joint Use Planning Committee culminated on January 22, 2009 in the signing by Maine transportation commissioner David Cole of a perpetual conservation easement granting Maine Coast Heritage Trust control of 600 acres (240 ha) of the island, while leaving the remaining 340 acres (140 ha) of the island open to port development.
On February 19, 2009 however, a Rockland, Maine environmental activist and separately residents of Augusta and of Searport, sued asking the Maine Superior Court "to rescind the Jan. 22, 2009 conservation easement until the MDOT has fully complied with the requirements of the Maine Sensible Transportation Policy Act and the Maine Site Location of Development Law." On September 8, 2010, Maine Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Hjelm dismissed all three cases as premature, concluding that the current lack of port development, and lack of any interest in port development by the Plaintifs made the injury theoretical and impossible to evaluate: the Plaintiffs as yet lacked demonstrable standing to sue. On May 3, 2011, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judge's decision.
Uses of the Island
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Visitors can drive out to the end of the causeway, and even though there is a road that travels down the center of the island to the southern tip, you can not drive on the island itself, as it is blocked off by large concrete blocks and fencing. You can however walk, hike, bike, and explore the island, not only by the road—appx. 1-mile (1.6 km) long — which offers spectacular views of Penobscot Bay, Cape Rosier/Castine, and Islesboro Island, among many others), but also by the numerous walking trails that zig-zag their way around the island. There are beautiful beaches that surround the perimeter of the island as well.
- Maine Public Radio News stories about Sears Island
- State & federal agency documents from 1990s & 2005 Sears Island port efforts