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Looking back and looking ahead: leadership at Friends

Dear Friends,

It has already been three weeks since we gathered with 200 Friends of the Bay to celebrate the career, contributions, and retirement of our longtime Executive Director, Cathy Ramdsell. Cathy’s send-off party, held outdoors at Portland Yacht Services’ boatyard, marked our first in-person event since the onset of the pandemic. It was heartwarming and rejuvenating to see so many supporters, partners, and colleagues after so much time apart. Cathy shared it meant the world to her that we could all be together for this watershed moment. You can view photos and revisit that special evening here.

So what’s next?

Friends of Casco Bay’s Board of Directors will officially launch the search for our next Executive Director soon. As Board President Sandy Marsters has said, “We are grateful that Cathy waited for our organization to reach its current state of maturity and stability before moving on to the next phase of her life. Organizationally, we are stronger than ever: our finances are sound, we have a team of interdisciplinary staff producing incredible work, and our visibility is at an all-time high.”

In the meantime, the board has appointed me to serve as Interim Director. Having worked with our exceptional staff, board members, and community since 2006, and knowing our collective passion for Casco Bay, I am honored to serve our organization during this transition.

Here are some examples of the incredible efforts our staff and volunteers have pursued over the past few weeks.

While we were organizing Cathy’s retirement party, we were also responding to an oil spill at Willard Beach in South Portland. The beach was closed for three days as state, local, and private cleanup teams removed 2,000 pounds of contaminated material. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca toured the beach soon after the spill was reported. You can read about Ivy’s experience at the cleanup here.

The spill was a stark reminder that protecting the health of the Bay requires vigilance.

This is why we are delighted to have more than 375 volunteer Water Reporters helping us keep watch over Casco Bay. Some Water Reporters recently took a field trip with Ivy and Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman to the Mere Point Boat Launch to share how they all could be better stewards. If you volunteer your time as a Water Reporter, thank you. If you want to join this observing network, we would love to have you aboard. You can learn more here.

As autumn begins, we are concluding our first summer with three Continuous Monitoring Stations in the water, gathering data every hour on a changing Casco Bay. These data have already begun to offer new insights about our waters. The data is used in our efforts to reduce pollution and help our communities be more resilient to the effects of climate change. To learn about these insights and what else Ivy and Staff Scientist Mike Doan observed this field season, keep an eye out for our next Casco Bay Matters event.

September is coastal cleanup month. Our community members are taking to our coast to pick up trash and litter. In the process they are helping to protect wildlife, collect data for marine debris research and advocacy efforts, and keeping our shores cleaner and safer. Click here for ways you can join them.

Your support means more to us than ever. We look forward to keeping you updated about our search for new leadership and about our work ahead. Thank you for caring about the health of Casco Bay.

With appreciation,

Will Everitt
Interim Director
Friends of Casco Bay

Photos by: Kevin Morris, Ivy Frignoca, and Glenn Michaels

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.

Oil spills and algal blooms on Casco Bay

As you may know, our volunteer Water Reporters help us improve the health of Casco Bay by documenting concerning conditions observed on our coastal waters.

Last week, we connected our volunteers with regional experts in an illuminating and informative discussion about identifying threats to the health of Casco Bay: Do I report this? When to report sheens, colors, or foams.

Volunteer Water Reporters were joined by Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and two guest experts: William Whitmore from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Bryant Lewis from Maine Department of Marine Resources. Together, they discussed how to identify oil spills and algal blooms that we may observe on Casco Bay.

If you are curious about how to keep a lookout for these problems out on the Bay, check out these short video clips from the training:

In this two minute clip, Willie reviews the steps for identifying an oil spill. He encourages us to use our eyes and our noses to answer two key questions: Is there a source? And Does it smell?

Bryant shares that Casco Bay is a regional hotspot for Harmful Algal Blooms. These blooms produce toxins that can harm sea life like shellfish, and in turn harm humans who eat contaminated seafood. Harmful Algal Blooms are caused by only a few of the many species of algae that live and bloom in Casco Bay.

Karenia mikimotoi is a species of brown-colored algae that creates harmful algal blooms in Casco Bay. Smaller blooms are often found along the shore with a wispy texture. Larger blooms can cover an entire cove or section of the Bay!

If you are interested in attending future training events and helping us keep an eye on the health of Casco Bay, hit reply and let me know you are interested in being a volunteer Water Reporter. Interested in watching the whole training? Here’s the full 52-minute video of the event.