Baykeeping by sea and by land

Posted on Aug 9, 2016

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca uses our Baykeeper vessel to help make threats to the Bay easier to understand.

Since Ivy Frignoca became Casco Baykeeper in January, she has taken full advantage of Friends of Casco Bay’s most visible asset: our Baykeeper boat, the Joseph E. Payne. It has become her platform to advocate to stop raw sewage from flowing into the Bay, plan for oil spill readiness, consider various dredging issues in Portland Harbor, renew efforts to improve water quality in the New Meadows River embayment, and confront coastal and ocean acidification.

In her first week on the job, Ivy joined our science staff on a 75-mile circuit around the Bay, helping to sample water quality. In the months since, she has invited many of our partners aboard the Baykeeper boat to examine issues from a different perspective. As Ivy says, “Many of our concerns are best understood from the water.”

Portland Harbor

Oil spills: Ivy recognized immediately that oil spill response would be one of her top priorities. “Even though there has not been a major oil spill since the Julie N in 1996, it’s important that we remain prepared as a community.”

Friends of Casco Bay will be participating in an oil spill response “table top exercise” in September with the US Coast Guard and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Oil Spill Response Team, and in a full scale exercise in 2017.

Ivy, Peter Milholland (who coordinates volunteers who assist in the event of a spill), and Maine DEP staff toured the harbor to identify sensitive wetlands and beaches on islands that are most likely to be affected by a spill. “In this way, we can gather relevant information and be prepared to assist the Coast Guard and clean-up experts if a spill does occur, by alerting them about ecologically sensitive areas that we should try to protect.”

Toxic pollution around the wharves: Early industries along the Fore River dumped their waste into Portland Harbor. Polluted rainwater still flows into the harbor from combined sewer pipes along Commercial Street. Sediments, which may contain toxins that harm marine life, are carried downstream by stormwater and have silted in many of the berthing spaces between Portland’s wharves. At low tide, mud appears around many of the piers. Wharf owners must dredge to restore the working waterfront, but what should they do with these toxic sediments?

One option is to bury them in a deep, secure hole in the Fore River, an approach called Confined Aquatic Disposal cell or CAD cell.

Sewage overflows: While the City of Portland has been working to reduce sewage overflows elsewhere in the city, there are no plans currently to remove the Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) along Commercial Street. It’s possible that after being dredged, the wharves could again become silted from stormwater debris.

So what is the solution? Talking, for a start. The Baykeeper, along with Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, escorted Portland City Manager Jon Jennings and staff members from Portland’s Water Resources Division and Portland Water District on a waterside tour of CSOs and commercial piers. The boat trip marked the start of a new era of integrated planning.

“Working together to eliminate CSOs, clear out toxic sediments, and ensure best use of the city’s wastewater treatment system will improve the health of the Bay, upgrade the working waterfront for mariners, and eliminate smelly discharges for tourists walking along the waterfront. The goal is to help different sectors of City government develop more unified solutions that make the most sense financially and, more importantly, improve the health of the Bay.”

Eastern Casco Bay: In June, Ivy accompanied Brunswick Marine Resources Officer Dan Devereaux on the Brunswick police boat to consider ways to improve water quality in the eastern end of the Bay. Two causeways, built to connect Brunswick and West Bath, have restricted tidal flow in the upper regions of the New Meadows River so that they are no long free-flowing, creating saltwater lagoons known locally as the “Lakes.” The lack of tidal exchange results in massive jellyfish and algae blooms, extremely low oxygen levels in summer, and occasional fish kills. The bottom is coated with a layer of black, anoxic mud which makes the water devoid of oxygen during much of the summer.

Dan and Ivy discussed ways to revitalize the dormant New Meadows Watershed Partnership to find a solution that might be restorative, fair, and enduring. The New Meadows area is being looked at as a site for aquaculture ventures, while it is becoming increasingly polluted.

Ivy also has brought together interested parties to discuss aquaculture in the intertidal flats. Friends of Casco Bay, in conjunction with Manomet, organized a workshop for resource managers, state and local officials, clammers, and residents to explain state law regarding siting of aquaculture operations in the intertidal zone.

Baykeeping by land

Of course, Ivy has attended and organized dozens of other meetings on land. Three months into her job, Ivy, along with Susie Arnold of the Island Institute and Esperanza Stancioff of Maine Sea Grant, convened the first meeting of the Maine Ocean & Coastal Acidification (MOCA) Partnership to respond to one of the most pernicious but least understood effects of climate change: acidifying ocean and coastal waters. Three months later, they helped organize and host more than 100 scientists, graduate students, and policy makers at a day-long symposium. They invited 15 speakers to share the most recent data and to lay the groundwork for constructing an action plan for dealing with coastal and ocean acidification.

In her first 7 months on the job, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca has jumped in with both feet to champion many initiatives, continuing the fine tradition of collaborative problem-solving established by Friends of Casco Bay over a quarter century ago.