Boaters in Maine, already prohibited from dumping treated and untreated toilet waste into Casco Bay and in the Boothbay Harbor region, could find themselves barred from dumping sewage in other popular cruising spots this summer.
The state is requesting that federal officials also ban boat sewage dumping off Mount Desert Island, in southwestern Penobscot Bay, and near Kennebunk and Wells.
“We feel the resources in those areas warrant the additional protection,” Pam Parker, no-discharge coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Thursday. “The boats have always been considered a wild card.”
Parker said the state has approached the federal Environmental Protection Agency about establishing the no-discharge areas because states are not authorized to regulate boat waste discharges in marine waters. If the requests are granted, she said, the prohibition zones could be in effect by mid-June.
Parker said the state must demonstrate there are adequate “pump-out” facilities in the areas that would be affected before the EPA will approve the requests. MDI, for example, has six pump-out facilities and a mobile pump-out vessel that can accommodate larger boats, she said.
The state is not necessarily concerned about the existing water quality in the areas where discharges would be prohibited, according to Parker. DEP is seeking the discharge ban because of the popularity of recreational boating, such as kayaking off MDI, in the Camden-Rockport-Rockland area, and around other busy ports, she said.
Parker said the state also plans at some point to request the same no-discharge designation for state waters between Kittery and York.
In a statement, federal officials said the public may comment on the proposed no-discharge area off MDI until May 26. The area affected by the designation would include the southern side of the island in waters off the towns of Cranberry Isles and Southwest Harbor and parts of Mount Desert and Tremont.
Comments may be faxed to 617-918-0538. More information about how to submit comments is available at www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-WATER/2009/April/Day-24/w9439.htm
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the area off MDI that would be affected by the designation is considered “high value wildlife habitat.” The federal release indicated the area includes nearly 25 square miles of marine habitat and 252 acres of identified shellfish habitat and is adjacent to 4,000 acres of wetlands and bald eagle habitat.
Parker said if boaters are unable to have their sewage tanks pumped by a septic waste service while they are in a harbor, they would have the option of leaving the designated areas to dump their treated waste or going at least three miles offshore to dump untreated waste. Standards for treating boat waste are “very lax” compared to the standards for treating sewage on land, she said.
Shellfish harvesting has been banned in some of the affected areas, such as off southern MDI, because of pollution runoff from land or outlay pipes from land-based sewage treatment plants, according to Parker. The boat sewage discharge bans in those areas could help reopen some of those closed shellfish areas, she said, though that is not the direct goal of the requested discharge ban.
“It’s not a foregone conclusion” that those shellfish areas will be reopened, she said.