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Select Board, land trust call for 'zero tolerance' of plastic waste

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Jan 11, 2021
Photo by: Lin Calista Shreds of plastic waste washed ashore on Sears Island in December after spilling into the bay when a cargo ship registered in Malta lost two bales of plastic in the bay Dec. 2 while unloading at Sprague Energy.

Islesboro — The Select Board and Islesboro Islands Trust issued a joint statement Friday, Jan. 8, announcing that both entities had sent letters to Brian Kavanah, director of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Water Quality concerning the Dec. 2 plastics spill in Penobscot Bay.

Gabe Pendleton, chairman of the Select Board, told The Republican Journal the board wrote to Kavanah out of concern for the quality of the water in the bay and its effect on fishing, tourism and recreation. He added that some of the 2 tons of plastic that went into the water when bales of trash being unloaded at Mack Point came apart has washed up on the island.

The board had no reason to think the state was not taking the incident seriously, he said, but wanted to make DEP aware of its concern, and that it will be watching the state's response.

The board's letter says, in part, "At a meeting of the Islesboro Select Board held today, January 7, 2021, the Board unanimously endorsed concerns raised by the Islesboro Islands Trust in their letter of January 3, 2021, written to you in reference to [the Dec. 2, 2020,] plastic waste discharge into Penobscot Bay. A significant amount of this plastic was found along at 35-to-40-foot stretch of beach at Sprague's Cove, Islesboro, on December 13, 2020. ..."

The letter also expresses concern about the threat posed by the waste to the local economy, and concludes, "Please undertake all steps necessary to discipline the responsible parties and establish zero tolerance for discharging plastic waste in the marine waters of Maine."

The Islesboro Islands Trust letter made a number of criticisms about the manner in which the plastic waste was transported, which allowed the spill to happen in the first place, as well as the fact that Sprague Operating Resources, the responsible party at Mack Point, did not report the spill, and the inefficiency of the cleanup operation. It also referred to studies demonstrating the toxicity of such plastic waste to marine life and to humans.

It concluded, "Sprague Operating Resources must be sanctioned for not immediately reporting the above cited plastics discharge; protocols must be developed that ensure thorough, rapid and effective clean-up of any such waste spill in the future; and waste transportation regulations must be imposed that represent zero tolerance for discharge of plastics into Maine waters."

One of the two bales that went into the water was recovered intact (see "Lost bale of plastic waste from cargo ship recovered," TRJ, Jan. 7, 2021), noted Shana Hoch, Sprague Energy's managing director for marketing and customer experience Jan. 11. She added that the company has recovered some 21,000 pounds of debris from the beaches, well over the 2 metric tons (about 5,600 pounds) of plastic that fell into the ocean. The company even went to Seal Cove on Islesboro when a resident called to complain about plastic that had washed up there. The material did not appear to be part of the December spill, she said, but the company cleaned it up anyway.

She added that the company has received no other reports of debris from Islesboro.

"We continue to visit the causeway area and respond to any debris siting reports sent to maine@spragueenergy.com," Hoch said in an email to The Republican Journal..

In conclusion, Hoch said, "As a company in the energy business for 150 years, we understand we need to continue to evolve and use our existing infrastructure to support innovative energy solutions. ... Should further shipments be made, Sprague will be requiring air bag bladders between the stack to prevent damage during transit."

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