Coast Guard removes Seal Island safety zone

Boston — The Coast Guard Captain of the Port for the Northern New England area has decided to remove the safety zone around Seal Island, Maine.

The Coast Guard has initiated the regulatory process to withdraw the interim rule that established the safety zone, while local, state and federal officials continue to work with the local fishing community to ensure they are aware of the risks from unexploded munitions in the waters surrounding Seal Island.

Seal Island was a U.S. Government aerial bombing range during and after World War II. It was turned over to the Department of the Interior in 1972 after U.S. Navy bombing operations ceased.

After receiving input from the Vinalhaven fishing community and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and State of Maine officials reviewed the safety zone and determined that the underwater risk could be effectively communicated to the fishing community through a Local Notice to Mariners and other local outreach. State and federal agencies will work closely with these stakeholders to explore long term measures including the possible establishment of a revised danger area, a restricted area, or a limited safety zone.

“It’s an extremely delicate balance between safety and economic interests,” said Major John C. Fetterman, spokesman for the Maine Marine Patrol. “The Maine Marine Patrol is committed to working with the Coast Guard through an educational and awareness period to assure fishery access to the area in the safest possible manner.”

The rule remains in place until removed in accordance with the regulatory process. The Coast Guard is still encouraging individuals to post comments at and reference the docket number USCG-2009-0595.

Mariners with questions about the safety zone should contact the Sector Northern New England Command Center at (207) 741-5465. The Coast Guard advises mariners to operate with extreme caution while operating in the vicinity of Seal Island.

The Coast Guard has asked the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to share their long range assessment on how to evaluate and mitigate the risks that surround Seal Island. The Coast Guard will also address the issue at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Regional Response Team, composed of several federal agencies, to discuss plans for the assessment and remediation of the munitions.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers appreciates the collaborative effort to mitigate the hazards associated with the unexploded munitions around Seal Island,” said Ellen Iorio of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. “We look forward to continued strong partnership.”

Rep. Pingree expressed satisfaction with the Coast Guard’s actions, “I want to congratulate Coast Guard Sector Northern New England for their quick work on this issue. Here in Maine the Coast Guard has a long history of working closely with state and local agencies and this is another example of that cooperation. Safety is always a top priority for the Coast Guard and I know they are going to continue to work closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Maine Department of Environmental Protection to investigate any hazards around Seal Island and any potential cleanup that needs to take place. I’m grateful for the work that the Coast Guard has done on this issue and the work they do every day protecting the lives of those who make their living on the water.”

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