The Penobscot River Pollution Abatement Committee, or PROPAC, has been around for almost 35 years, but it has never really been in the public spotlight.
In this case, though, that’s a good thing.
The committee, composed of 10 area businesses and agencies that own property along the Penobscot, primarily spends its time training and preparing for a disaster they hope never happens.
“Since we started, we’ve never had an oil spill, but we need to be ready if we ever do,” said Jim Sullivan of Webber Energy, one of the committee’s member businesses. “All our equipment needs to work should something ever happen.”
In that spirit, PROPAC often participates in drills along designated areas of the Penobscot River to keep its skills sharp. Wednesday was the most recent drill, although the gray skies and light rain didn’t exactly make for a pleasant day on the water.
“If you have a spill, you’re going to be out here anyway,” said Mike Tatarcyk of Exxon/Mobil, another member of PROPAC.
The drills consist of small teams deploying oil containment booms in sections of the river. The booms, made of thick, canvaslike material, extend out from the shoreline and are anchored to keep them from hugging the land.
“Our job is basically to be the first responder,” Sullivan said Wednesday from a boat near the Veterans Memorial Bridge. “Other agencies will come in to do the extensive cleanup.”
When oil spills in any body of water, it stays on the surface but can spread quickly. The most important thing is containment. Timing is crucial. However, in many cases, commercial oil spill response organizations often cannot respond to a spill in adequate time. That’s why PROPAC initially was formed, Sullivan said.
The represented businesses have plants along the river from Searsport to Bangor where oil conceivably could spill. They are: Verso Paper, Bangor International Airport, Pike Industries, Webber Tanks Inc., Cold Brook Energy, Exxon/Mobil, Sprague Energy, Irving Oil Corp., Webber Oil Co. and Cianbro Corp. Each PROPAC member pays dues to support purchasing equipment and supplies necessary to support the operation. That equipment includes four 20-foot boats, four boom trailers and nearly a mile of boom.
“Our goal is to be able to deploy 1,000 feet of boom within an hour,” Sullivan said.
Various pieces of equipment are stored in different areas to improve response time to specific incidents. PROPAC also works closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection on its annual drills and Sullivan called the relationships mutually beneficial.