An estimated 1 million gallons of “partially treated” sewage washed away part of a Portland walking path Thursday morning as it surged from a wastewater treatment plant and into Casco Bay, an official said.
Around 4:45 a.m., a tank at the Portland Water District facility overflowed, sending the semi-treated sewage pouring into the bay for about three hours and forcing the closure of a nearby beach, city and utility officials said. The water utility had initially estimated that the spill began around 6:45 a.m. and lasted one hour.
The city’s East End Beach and part of the Eastern Prom Trail were closed around noon. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection was alerted to the spill, and water samples have been collected for analysis, Portland Water District spokeswoman Michelle Clements said.
Solid waste had already been removed from the water, which was near the end of the treatment process when it spilled from a tank where chlorine is added, Clements said. The plant is again running normally and the overflow’s cause is under investigation, she said.
There may be elevated bacteria levels around the spill because the water was only partially chlorinated, Maine Department of Environmental Protection spokesman David Madore said in a statement. A state inspector was at the site of the overflow Thursday. The Water District is expected to submit a written report on it within five days, Madore said. The department will then “determine what actions may be appropriate,” he said.
Barricades were put up around the damaged part of the Eastern Prom and a “No Swimming” sign was posted on the beach Thursday morning.
The trail will remain closed until Wednesday, and a decision about when to reopen the beach will be made after water test results come back Friday, a city spokeswoman said in a tweet.
The spill could be a problem for a charity swim scheduled for Saturday. The YMCA of Southern Maine will make a decision about whether to proceed with its annual Peaks to Portland Swim to Benefit Kids after seeing the water test results, said Meaghan Woodsome, the organization’s marketing director.
This year’s race, 2.4 miles from Peaks Island to the East End Beach, is set to have nearly 500 swimmers and expected to raise $180,000 for the YMCA, Woodsome said.
“We take the safety and health of all race participants very seriously and will make a decision based on this,” she said.
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