An island-based land trust wants the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to impose a substantially higher fine than proposed on the company responsible for spilling about 2,500 pounds of plastic into Penobscot Bay last year.
Under a proposed consent agreement, Sprague Operating Resources will be fined $17,800 for violating the state’s pollution control law for the December 2020 spill. But the Islesboro Islands Trust feels that a more appropriate fine would be about $340,000, given the length of time the company was in violation of the state’s pollution control law.
While the spill occured on Dec. 2, Sprague did not report it until about a week later. Clean-up efforts were ultimately suspended in early January, though the Department of Environmental Protection required the company to do weekly inspections.
The draft consent agreement, which was released last month, still needs approval from the Board of Environmental Protection and the Maine attorney general before it is finalized.
“Sprague Operating Resources must be sanctioned for spilling shredded plastic waste into Penobscot Bay and for not immediately reporting the plastics discharge; protocols and penalties must be imposed that discourage importing shredded plastic trash in this form and that ensure thorough, rapid and effective clean-up of any such waste spill in future,” the land trust said in a letter to the environmental department.
The Islesboro Islands Trust is weighing in on the issue because spilled plastic made its way to Sprague Cove, located on the island, according to the land trust’s executive director, Stephen Miller.
The land trust has also historically “weighed-in on regional matters of importance to the health and well-being of our community,” Miller said.
The Dec. 2 spill occurred when two compressed bales of shredded plastic from Northern Ireland were being offloaded from a ship at the Sprague Terminal in Searsport. The bales ― weighing a combined 2,500 pounds ― went into the water when the straps being used to lift them slipped, causing the bales to fall. While one remained intact and was later recovered, the second hit the pier and broke open before sinking.
Sprague did not report the spill to the environmental department until a week later, after the department had received a complaint about plastic washing up on nearby Sears Island.
Volunteers from the Friends of Sears Island and a professional remediation team hired by Sprague spent weeks removing shredded plastic from the shoreline.
The Islesboro Islands Trust is also recommending that $25,000 of the fine paid by Sprague should be “allocated as a supplemental environmental project to Friends of Sears Island in light of their immediate and substantial assistance in managing cleanup along the Sears Island shore and the likelihood of their eyes-on-the-ground should another spill occur.”