DEBLOIS, Maine — One of the world’s largest blueberry companies, Wyman and Son of Milbridge, has been cited for a substantial discharge of blueberry waste into a river Down East.
“We are still assessing the true magnitude of this,” Matt Young, a compliance inspector with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said Wednesday. “It is very difficult to quantify how long this was going on and how much leached into the river.”
He said water quality tests conducted at the leaching site and up and down river from that location were made quite easy because the leachate turned the water and plant life in the area blue.
When the discharge into the Great Falls Branch of Schoodic Brook, which the DEP considers a river, was discovered on Aug. 26, Washington County’s blueberry season had been under way for three weeks.
When Young first visited the location off Route 193 in Deblois, he found a very large pile of blueberry processing waste that was leaching into a nearby shallow pond. The waste then was traveling through a man-made ditch into a wooded area where it was freely flowing into the river.
Young said at least 10 gallons of waste per minute was running from the pile to the river, turning the water blue.
Schoodic Brook is considered by the DEP as a Class AA freshwater river, which means it is restricted to being used for aquatic life, drinking water, fishing and recreation. No pollutants are allowed to be discharged.
The waste, according to the DEP notice of violation, includes unprocessed waste berries, leaves, twigs and other winnowings.
Young also said that although Wyman had a license to spread the waste on specific fields in the area, the company held no license for the waste pile location. The pile was on property owned by the company.
While investigating, “we also noticed a lot of excessive growth of fungus or plant life — often called sewer rot — in the water near the site,” Young said. He said the leachate contained a lot of nutrients. He said it was not clear if the growth was a fungus or just exuberant natural growth because of the high nutrient charge in the water. He said no dead fish were found.
Young said the ditch appeared to be an intentional diversion of the runoff but added the DEP still was investigating that portion of the violation.
Matt Lindquist, director of operations for Wyman and Son, refused to discuss the issue Wednesday.
“I am not at liberty to discuss the subject,” Lindquist said.
Young said he originally went to the site on Aug. 26 and then repeated his inspection on Aug. 29. During the three days between visits, the DEP report concluded, Wyman had constructed an earthen berm to prevent further discharge from the collection pond and had partially drained the pond. Since then, Young said Wednesday, Wyman has completely removed the waste pile.
As part of the notice of violation, the DEP requested Wyman and Son:
• Immediately cease all discharges into the brook, while it noted that the pond had been partially emptied and a berm constructed.
• Create a plan for the environmentally sound operation of the site if Wyman will continue to store and/or compost agricultural waste at the Deblois site. In addition, a similar plan must be created for all Wyman agricultural waste.
Young said the enforcement division of the DEP is considering any penalties or fines and that any potential fine levied against the company certainly would be mitigated by the firm’s quick cooperation and remediation.