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Oil Spill at Willard Beach

Friends of Casco Bay has been monitoring the situation at Willard Beach in South Portland, where an oil sheen was reported August 24th.

Update as of September 21, 2021:

After an oil spill was first reported on Willard Beach in South Portland on August 24, the beach was closed to the public for a three day cleanup effort. The cleanup was conducted by the US Coast Guard, Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the City of South Portland, and Clean Harbors Environmental Services. Cleanup crews deployed a temporary containment dam to collect oily waste. They cleaned stormwater drains, pipes, and catch basins between Willard Beach and the source of the spill on Cottage Road, near the former Hill Service Station. Ultimately, the cleanup crews removed approximately 2,000 pounds of oily seaweed, debris, and sorbent cleanup materials.

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca toured the site during the second day of cleanup. By then, Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s trained response staff and the Clean Harbors team had swiftly contained and cleaned most of the spill. 

“It was reassuring to see wading waterfowl fishing in the area and clean sand around the stormwater outfall pipe,” Ivy observed. “I did not see any visible sheen in the water flowing from the outfall or in the water lapping the beach. I left the site relieved that the Bay had not been seriously harmed.”

Ivy was allowed on site because she is specially trained as a participant with the Maine New Hampshire Area Committee, the group of agencies, companies, and nonprofits that respond to oil spills in our region.

Following the cleanup, the DEP collected six beach core samples for lab analysis. The lab results showed that all core samples contained quantities of hydrocarbons below guideline values, and therefore posed no risk to human health. Willard Beach was deemed safe for public use and officially reopened on Saturday, August 28. 

The cause of the oil spill remains under investigation by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The findings and further actions will be made public when the investigation concludes, and we will share them with you.

Update as of August 26, 2021 at 3:00 PM:

Ivy Frignoca, Casco Baykeeper with Friends of Casco Bay, visited the site of an oil spill at Willard Beach to assess environmental impacts and cleanup progress

Ivy was permitted on site at Willard Beach this morning to talk with response personnel about the oil spill that fouled the beach and Simonton Cove in South Portland. Ivy was allowed on site because she is specially trained as a participant with the Maine New Hampshire Area Committee, the group of agencies, companies, and nonprofits that respond to oil spills in our region.

Willard Beach is temporarily closed and will reopen as soon as response personnel deem it is safe and clean.

“The best way the public can help the response team is to stay away from Willard Beach,” said Ivy. “Attempts to access boats, walk dogs, or use the playground requires response staff to leave their important work and ask visitors to leave. The less distraction they have, the sooner they can complete the cleanup.”

The cause of the spill is being thoroughly investigated and appropriate regulatory action will follow. More importantly for Casco Bay, the response crews from the State and from Clean Harbors have worked diligently to clean the storm sewer system, remove contaminated seaweed and sand from the beach, and use sorbent pads, booms, and other equipment to absorb and separate oil from contaminated water. The response team also responded to the South Portland site where oil products were introduced to the storm sewer system.

The public can also help by reporting oiled wildlife or any sheens visible on the water adjacent to Simonton Cove that may have escaped detection. Friends of Casco Bay hosted a training this spring on how to recognize an oil sheen. Any observations can be reported with the Water Reporter app, and Friends will share the information with DEP and the US Coast Guard.

During Ivy’s 90 minutes on site, she saw healthy water fowl (with no oiled feathers) wading, diving, and feeding in the intertidal zone and shallow water adjacent to the contaminated outfall pipe. Ivy saw no sheen coming from the outfall pipe but did see some contaminated material adjacent to it. The response team will continue to work to remove all contaminated matter so the beach and cove will be safe for humans and wildlife. They are waiting for lab test results to identify the oil product.

“If you see any of the response team as you walk the neighborhood, please thank them,” said Ivy. “The photos of the site yesterday compared with what I observed today confirm how hard this team has worked to decontaminate the beach, preserve water quality, and protect wildlife.”

 

Original post published August 25, 2021:

Oil was washed down this storm drain, which discharges into Casco Bay at Willard Beach. Responders applied absorbent material to stem the flow of oil to the Bay. Note the stenciled message, “No dumping, drains to Casco Bay.”

Here is the latest official information from the U.S. Coast Guard and Maine Department of Environmental Protection regarding the spill:

SOUTH PORTLAND, August 25, 2021 — The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the City of South Portland are all involved in the joint response to an oil spill that reached the City’s storm water drainage system and subsequently discharged into the water at Willard Beach yesterday afternoon. Crews initially responded last night and returned this morning to continue proper cleanup and remediation efforts.

A responsible party has been identified and no additional discharge has occurred since last night, nor is further discharge from the source anticipated. Maine DEP is the lead agency overseeing response operations with the USCG and City of South Portland representatives supporting. Clean Harbors Environmental Services has been contracted and has been on scene actively conducting cleanup operations, which includes collecting any contaminated seaweed and working with the City’s Water Resources Protection Department to collect any remaining oily waste in the storm water drainage system in efforts to prevent any further discharge into the water at Willard Beach. The length of the cleanup effort is currently unknown.

Willard Beach will remain closed to the public for the remainder of today. Reopening will be assessed daily as cleanup efforts continue and results from soil/sand testing are analyzed. Neighbors in the vicinity may notice some petroleum-related odors as a result of this spill; however, authorities indicate there is no danger to public health.

“This incident highlights the strong partnerships we have at the federal, state, and local level here in South Portland. This is a team effort, and we certainly appreciate the cooperation of all involved agencies. The safety of the public is our primary concern,” said Captain Amy Florentino, U.S. Coast Guard, Commander Sector Northern New England.

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca says, “We are as concerned as you are when we hear about spills like this. We are grateful for how quickly the Coast Guard and state and local officials responded and contained the spill. These responders are well-trained and deeply committed to protecting our waters. They are keeping us up to date as they do their job. When it is appropriate, I will tour the scene with these officials for insight into the spill and the cleanup.”

We work closely with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and other members of the Maine and New Hampshire Area Committee, the federally mandated group of officials whose responsibility is to respond to oil and hazardous material spills in our waters. In addition to government agencies, many individuals from oil spill response organizations, industry, and environmental groups, including Friends of Casco Bay, participate in the Committee’s planning process and play key roles in spill preparedness throughout the region.

Why does Casco Bay’s water look so clear?

Peering over the side of the R/V Joseph E. Payne, Staff Scientist Mike Doan could see schools of small fish swimming in the water below, while the red hood of a lion’s mane jellyfish floated by on the other side of our Baykeeper boat. What caught Mike’s eye, however, was not the sight of marine life, but rather the fact that his view was unobstructed: for this time of year, the waters of Casco Bay are exceptionally clear.

There are many factors that can affect the clarity of the water in Casco Bay. One major determinant is the abundance of phytoplankton – the tiny marine plants at the base of the ocean food web. Just like plants on land, phytoplankton contain chlorophyll, the green pigment that enables photosynthesis. When phytoplankton are abundant the Bay is a greenish-blue hue. In their absence, the water is often clear and bluer, reflecting the color of the sky above.

The importance of phytoplankton to the health of Casco Bay and the world at large is difficult to overstate. Globally, phytoplankton are estimated to produce 50 percent of the oxygen in the air we breathe. In addition, phytoplankton are key in the food web as they are grazed on by zooplankton, which in turn are fed on by small fish and progressively larger animals. In short, tiny phytoplankton have an oversized impact, providing foundational support for nearly all marine life.

The spring phytoplankton blooms in 2019 and 2021 each peaked in February and trailed off into March. In contrast to these earlier blooms, the spring blooms of 2018 and 2020 were larger in magnitude, with each peaking in March and carrying over into April. This variability may be typical or a sign of changing conditions in Casco Bay – only more data will tell.

Phytoplankton derive their name from the Greek words “phyto” (plant) and “plankton” (wandering, drifting) because they are unable to swim against the flow of the water and instead drift where currents carry them. As phytoplankton have no choice but literally “to go with the flow,” their activity and abundance fluctuate throughout the year as the characteristics and properties of water quality change with the seasons.

As we reported in March, spring in Casco Bay kicks off with a phytoplankton bloom. Warmer waters, more sunlight from longer days, and increased nutrient availability from melting snow and runoff are among the factors that create ideal conditions for this seasonal boom in phytoplankton activity. The spring bloom declines as phytoplankton deplete the available nutrients from the water and are consumed by zooplankton.

We track phytoplankton blooms in Casco Bay by measuring chlorophyll levels at our Continuous Monitoring Stations. This year, our data suggest the spring phytoplankton bloom occurred early, peaking in February and trailing off into March. Our data show a similar pattern in 2019. These early blooms stand in contrast to the larger spring blooms of 2018 and 2020, both of which peaked in March and carried over into April.

“Science has shown there is variability in the timing, duration, and size of spring phytoplankton blooms, so these ‘early’ blooms we’re seeing in our data may be entirely typical,” says Mike. “At the same time, factors like weather, water temperature, and ocean chemistry have large effects on phytoplankton, so marine scientists are concerned that spring blooms may be sensitive to climate change. Because phytoplankton are at the base of the marine food web, a significant change to the timing of the phytoplankton bloom could have implications for every level of Casco Bay’s ecosystem.”

If climate change is affecting the spring phytoplankton bloom in Casco Bay, we will be among the first to know. While Maine has decades of data that show the temperatures of our coastal waters are increasing and that our seas are rising, identifying trends in seasonal phenomena such as the spring bloom requires a detailed, long-term data set – just like the data we are collecting with our Continuous Monitoring Stations. We can track phytoplankton blooms in addition to some of the factors that impact them, such as water temperature or the quantity of spring runoff.

“We’re still in the beginning stages of this effort,” says Mike. “With five years of data from one station, we’re beginning to get a sense of the seasonal changes we can expect to see in the Bay. As more data accumulates, we may have a deeper understanding of how climate change is contributing to changing conditions in the water. With these scientifically grounded insights, we’ll be better prepared to advocate for the policies and practices that will protect the health of the Bay.”

Mike deploys our Portland Harbor Continuous Monitoring Station

Continuous Monitoring Stations are Game Changer

Mike deploys our Portland Harbor Continuous Monitoring Station
Mike deploys our Portland Harbor Continuous Monitoring Station

More than 700 Friends have contributed $1.5 million to help maintain three stations for a decade.

Casco Bay is invaluable to the economy and quality of life in Maine. Our coastal waters provide us with food, recreation, transportation, inspiration, and economic opportunities.

But Casco Bay is changing and changing quickly.

How is climate change impacting Casco Bay? Is the Bay getting warmer? Are our waters acidifying? How can we continue to protect the health of Casco Bay for generations to come?

Addressing these questions involves collecting water quality data on a frequent basis and for a long time. In 2019, we created the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund for Technology, Monitoring, and Community Engagement to launch and maintain three Continuous Monitoring Stations around the Bay and communicate changing conditions to the public. This winter we reached our goal of raising $1.5 million, thanks to more than 700 Friends who donated to the Fund, making our plan a reality.

In March, we launched a new station in eastern Casco Bay in Harpswell’s Cundys Harbor. And, as the photo above shows, in May we deployed our new Portland Harbor station. They complement our existing station located at the coastal center of the Bay in Yarmouth, collecting data hourly on how the Bay is changing, 365 days a year.*

“With climate change already impacting the Bay, the launch of these stations is a game changer for us,” says Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell. “Their steady streams of data will strengthen our reporting to the community and bolster our advocacy and stewardship efforts.”

Staff Scientist Mike Doan designed our Continuous Monitoring Stations, affectionately known as our “cages of science.” Oceanographic equipment in the cages collects data on temperature, acidity, dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, chlorophyll, dissolved organic matter, turbidity, salinity, and water depth.

“With three stations working at once, the science only gets better from here,” says Mike. “The Portland Harbor location is key because it is in the most heavily used part of the Bay. In eastern Casco Bay, water quality may be influenced by the Kennebec River, and our Harpswell station will track that. Across the board, these stations are deepening our knowledge of what is happening in Casco Bay.”

Data from the stations are available here.

To commemorate the launch of our two new Stations and the completion of the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund that is making this all possible, please join us for an online Casco Bay Matters event to celebrate! On Wednesday, June 16, from 5:30-6:15 p.m., Staff Scientist Mike Doan will share and compare, for the first time, data from all three Continuous Monitoring Stations.

Mike will be joined by Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca to discuss how these new stations will enhance our advocacy on behalf of Casco Bay for years to come.

We hope you can join us!

What: Celebrating Data From Our New Continuous Monitoring Stations — A Casco Bay Matters Event

When: Wednesday, June 16, from 5:30-6:15 p.m.

Please register to attend this online event.

Register Now

 

 *We remain grateful that the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership has supported the launch and maintenance of our initial station.

Announcing the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund

Casco Bay is changing and changing quickly. In the two minute video above, Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell announces the public phase of our Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund for Technology, Monitoring, and Community Engagement. We are creating a $1.5 million fund to be used over the next ten years to understand the ways in which our waters are threatened, while we engage the community in assessing and adapting to climate change.

The great news is that we are 86% of our way to our goal! You can help push us over the top!

We invite you to make a donation to our Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund.

Working together as a community to take care of this place may be our only hope to address climate
change; the cavalry is not coming to help. It is up to us.

If you would like to learn more about the Fund, you can read about our 10-year plan and make a donation here.

Casco Bay is heating up

Seem hotter than usual? Yes, indeed.

Our Continuous Monitoring Station has been collecting hourly data on the health of the Bay for more than four years.

Data from the station show that this summer has been the hottest one we have recorded since our “Cage of Science” has been in the water.

This graph compares water temperatures from 2016 to this month. The lavender-colored line represents the daily averages for this year.

Staff Scientist Mike Doan says “The data are concerning. This summer’s temperatures were on average the warmest we have seen at the station.”

You can find the most recent data for all the parameters we measure at our Cage of Science here.

In addition to collecting hourly data, for nearly 30 years, we have been spot-checking sites in the Bay. The temperature data from our three Sentinel Sites (see graph below for annual average, data collected May through October each year) show an upward trend as temperatures in Casco Bay have risen by 2.4° Fahrenheit [1.3° Celsius].

annual temperatures graph 2019

“Casco Bay is changing and changing quickly,” reports Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell. “That’s why we have launched the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund, which will help us put two more Continuous Monitoring Stations in the water, one near Portland and one near Harpswell, and operate all three stations for ten years.”

The $1.5 million Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund will be used over the next decade to understand the ways in which our waters are changing, while we engage the community in assessing and adapting to climate change. Friends of Casco Bay has raised 87% of its goal for the Fund. You can read more about the Fund, our 10-year plan, and make a secure donation here.

Notice of Blackbaud Security Breach

Friends of Casco Bay was one of a large number of nonprofits here in Maine and across the country that were affected by a security breach at Blackbaud, a third-party provider of our database. Blackbaud experienced a ransomware attack that occurred between February and May of this year.

We are assured by Blackbaud that no credit card or bank account information was stolen. Furthermore, Friends of Casco Bay does not collect or record other personal information, such as social security numbers or driver’s license numbers. Blackbaud informed us that the compromised data that cybercriminals did have access to may have included demographic information, such as our donors’ contact information and giving history with our organization.

According to Blackbaud, the company paid for the cybercriminals’ confirmed destruction of the copy of the stolen information. Based on the nature of the incident, their research, and third party (including law enforcement) investigation, Blackbaud has stated that “there is no reason to believe that any data went beyond the cybercriminal, was or will be misused, or will be disseminated or otherwise made available publicly.” You can read Blackbaud’s official statement here.

What We Are Doing
We take your privacy very seriously. From what we have learned from Blackbaud about this incident, there is no indication that our information was specifically targeted. We are investigating what occurred and whether there is anything we can do to better protect our donors’ personal data. As part of Blackbaud’s ongoing efforts to help prevent something like this from happening in the future, they already have implemented several changes that will help protect our data from subsequent incidents, and they are accelerating efforts to further defend their network from attacks. We have been told that Blackbaud and its security partners are continuing to scour the web to ensure that your personal information is being protected. We post more information if we learn more details about this incident.

What You Can Do
As a best practice, remain vigilant and promptly report any suspicious activity or suspected identity theft to the proper law enforcement authorities and entities impacted. The Federal Trade Commission provides a resource to help you report identity theft and to help you create a personal recovery plan. Out of an abundance of caution, you can place a credit freeze on your files with the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, to prevent a thief from opening up accounts in your name.

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact Will Everitt, Communications and Development Director, at (207) 671-1315 or by email willeveritt [at] cascobay [dot] org.

Thank you for caring about the environmental health of Casco Bay.

Celebrating Water

What a special evening we had for Celebrating Water – 30 Years of Friends of Casco Bay: A Film, A Poem, and A Conversation with Gary Lawless on July 27! Thank you to all who joined us for this one-of-a-kind event.

If you missed the event — or if you want to share it with some friends — you can watch the video of the celebration above.

We were delighted that Gulf of Maine Poet Gary Lawless joined us for this special event and took time for our conversation about the environment, art, and inspiration. You can read Gary’s poem, “For Casco Bay, For Us,” below.

It was wonderful to share Knack Factory’s film in honor of our 30th anniversary. You can watch the film here.

Special thanks to Friends of Casco Bay’s own Sara Biron for allowing us to use her paintings in promotion of this event. You can find out more about Sara and her art here.

Cathy spoke about our Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund for Technology, Science, and Community Engagement. You can learn about our plans over the next decade, and make a donation to support the Fund.

 

Internationally-renowned Gulf of Maine poet Gary Lawless wrote the poem below in honor of Friends of Casco Bay’s 30th Anniversary. Friends of the Bay heard the first (and second!) reading of this poem during our Celebrating Water – 30 Years of Friends of Casco Bay event on July 27, 2020.

For Casco Bay, for Us

By Gary Lawless

 

rising in the mountains, the water,

finding its way

from granite to the bay

we are water

and we want to flow

flow through our lives

here a forest, here

a town, flowing, down –

here are rocks, falls –

we fall, at the end,

at the mouth

into a larger body,

our body, body of

water, to become

to become more than we are –

where the future flows

into the sea,

and all that you see

we are water

we are patterns in water,

currents, eddies, we

pool and move

on, we flow –

how many rivers flow

into the bay

how many streams

into the rivers

where does the rain go

where does the wind go

bays to the ocean

how much moonlight

touches the water

how many fish

find their way home

we are water

and we want to flow –

in beauty, in light,

in whatever weather

the rocks are singing

as water passes over

it is high tide

and our hearts are full

it is low tide

and we are waiting

we have been waiting for you

for thousands of years

we are water

the water is the bay

the wind is the bay

the fish, the birds, the plants,

we are the bay

what happens to water

happens to us

we are water

and we want to flow, saying

this is our body and

we are home

we rise as water rises

we fall as water falls

we are water

we are the bay

we are water

we are the bay

 

About Gary Lawless:
Gary, originally from Belfast/Penobscot Bay, is the award-winning author of 21 poetry collections. In addition to sharing his own writings as a bio-regional poet, Gary has long worked to encourage others to bring their voices into the wider community. He has empowered combat veterans, homeless people, immigrants, refugees, adults with disabilities, and prison inmates to write poetry and publish their works. In honor of his poetry and his community work, the Maine Humanities Council awarded Gary the 2017 Constance H. Carlson Public Humanities Prize, the University of Southern Maine has given him an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, and the Emily Harvey Foundation has offered him two residencies in Venice, Italy. He and Beth Leonard opened Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick 40 years ago as a community hub.

 

A statement of solidarity and support

Casco Bay belongs to everyone.

This is more than just a phrase to those of us who work at Friends of Casco Bay.

We work to improve and protect the health of this special place for everyone. Like you, we are deepening our conversations with one another as a group and as individuals, about systemic racism, tyranny, and violence in our country and our community. We are not experts at confronting the depth of injustices we are seeing in our nation.

We are taking time to listen and to learn.

Disproportionately, black people, people of color, and indigenous people have long borne the brunt of pollution and the effects of climate change. These environmental injustices are intertwined with structural racism.

Black lives matter. We stand in solidarity with the activists and organizations who are leading the call for justice and accountability.

This is a long-overdue moment for communities to come together and change behaviors and systems. This begins with listening and learning. And we know it does not stop there.

Most sincerely,
Cathy, Jeff, Jim, Ivy, Mike, Sara, Sarah, and Will

Spring Blooms in Casco Bay

What signs tell you that spring has arrived? Grass turning green? A robin in your yard? Ospreys returning to their nests?

What about huge blooms of phytoplankton in Casco Bay?

The chlorophyll fluorescence measurements in the graph above were recorded by our Continuous Monitoring Station, which has been in place for almost two years.

Chlorophyll fluorescence is a measure that provides an estimate of phytoplankton abundance. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that traps the energy of the sun for photosynthesis.

The graph tells us that this year’s spring bloom of phytoplankton started around the same time as last year, but was bigger in magnitude this year than in 2017.

Why do we care about chlorophyll levels? Phytoplankton are the single-celled plants that make up the foundation of the ocean food web. Phytoplankton also provide half of all the oxygen we breath—so thank phytoplankton for every other breathe you take. You can read more about phytoplankton and chlorophyll in our recent post.

Photography by Kevin Morris

Every hour and every day, the Continuous Monitoring Station—a.k.a our “Cage of Science”—is building a more complete picture of the seasons beneath the Bay. Thanks to support from Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and generous donors, the Station collects measurements of temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, and chlorophyll fluorescence year-round. Every other week, Research Associate Mike Doan cleans and calibrates the equipment, and downloads and graphs the data to track conditions in the Bay.

How Does the New Tax Plan Affect Your Charitable Giving?

The new tax plan passed by Congress this year will have serious consequences for donors who deduct charitable gifts. We want to be sure you have a sense of how this may affect your giving to Friends of Casco Bay.

If you have questions about the new tax plan, we strongly recommend you talk with your financial advisor.

In a nut shell:
Effective for taxable years 2018 through 2025, the standard deduction has been doubled to $24,000 for married couples ($12,000 for individuals) and the personal exemption is eliminated.* The overall limitation on itemized deductions is eliminated. —And the deduction for charitable gifts is retained and expanded to allow taxpayers to deduct up to 60% of their adjusted gross income for gifts of cash to nonprofits.**

What does this mean for this year?
In 2018 and beyond, if your yearly itemized deductions are not likely to exceed the increased standard exemption you may wish to make a large charitable gift prior to year-end (December 31, 2017) in order to maximize the charitable income tax deduction in 2017.

If you would like to maximize your charitable giving deduction this year, please consider making a gift to Friends of Casco Bay before December 31. You may send a check to Friends of Casco Bay, 43 Slocum Drive, South Portland, ME 04101, make a secure gift online at https://www.cascobay.org/donate/, or contact Will Everitt by email or phone [willeveritt [at] cascobay [dot] org, (207) 671-1315] for stock gift instructions.

What does the new tax plan mean for future years?
For the same reasons, in future years, clients may also benefit by bunching multiple years of charitable gifts into a single year. This strategy may work particularly well if you give annually—you may want to contribute the charitable sum to a Donor Advised Fund and then make grants periodically in future years according to your original giving plan. If you would like to talk with Friends of Casco Bay about planned giving, please email or call Will Everitt (willeveritt [at] cascobay [dot] org, (207) 671-1315).

The implications of this sweeping tax act are still abstract and uncertain. We will continue to monitor and assess the potential effects on nonprofits and governmental agencies.

Again, we strongly recommend you talk with your financial advisor. Thank you for being charitably minded.

 

 

* “The Tax cuts and Jobs Act,” an “Advanced Planning” report by UBS, pp. 3-4, December 2017.
**IBID