Oct 15, 2014

Gulf of Maine weather buoys enter replacement phase PlusTEXT-A-BUOY

Tom Shyka  of NERACOOS' short update on our Gulf of Maine weather buoys  and note that a buoy off Monhegan has gotten loose and is drifting about.

Click here for a map with links to all the science and weather buoys off new England and up its rivers

Buoy Refreshment – Gulf of Maine data buoys are currently going through a replacement phase during the Fall. Deployed data buoys are being replaced with refreshed buoys to ensure maintenance and reliability of their systems. Mr. Shyka highlighted that Buoy E, which is usually deployed South of Monhegan Island is currently adrift and is short listed for recovery and replacement. The buoy refreshment operation will extend through October and November.

Text-a-Buoy – The text-a-buoy system was discussed as a simple tool to receive important offshore buoy data via text. See http://www.neracoos.org/datatools/text-a-buoy for more details and to sign up.

NERACOOS' new data portal  will "pull critical wind, wave, water level and other data from various sources into one consolidated portal. The system is expected to be very valuable in forecasting coastal flooding following  major storms/hurricanes .  http://www.neracoos.org/realtime_map
The NERACOOS website www.neracoos.org provides a variety of ocean and weather data displays. Contact Tom Shyka tom@neracoos.org with questions.

Oct 3, 2014

GAC Chemical's Water Pollution Waterloo?

For Immediate release

SEARSPORT.  While MDEP has announced that it is pondering a GAC pollution pardon, Penobscot Bay environmental and seafood advocates
 hold talks with federal EPA officials on 10am Friday October 3rd over the acid plumes visibly leaving GAC Chemical's property on Stockton Harbor.

Activists say  a thorough and comprehensive cleanup  plan must be agreed to by the bay's fishery and conservation communities  and the state before immunity is granted to polluter GAC Chemical

PRESENT SITUATION State and federal officials are at cross purposes over what to do  about chronic sulfuric acid spiller/leaker GAC Chemical Corp and half century of discharges into extensive tidal flats  of the southwestern corner of Stockton Harbor.

EPA officials say their hands are tied by Maine DEP's refusal to allow them   to examine the plume-beribboned site in Searsport, a semi-enclosed pocket cove  created by construction of the Sears Island Causeway  which created a barrier between Stockton Harbor and Searsport Harbor, and a mitigation sandbar that separates the pocket cove from the rest of the harbor  much of the time.

While the federal agency marks time, the state is  working out a deal with GAC. They have finally opened negotiations on a voluntary cleanup of the abandoned sulfuric acid plant perched atop the tip of Kidder Point.

This after 15 years of ignoring calls to organize a  Voluntary Response Action Plan for the site.  Late last week Maine DEP pollution cleanup official Nick Hodgkins told Friends of Penobscot Bay that the agency recently held talks with the company about remediating its abandoned sulfuric acid plant and adjacent wastes.

Hodgkins said the company is expected to present DEP with a preliminary plan in November.  The VRAP deal would  pardon GAC  for  discharging sulfuric acid and other wastes into Stockton Harbor in violation of Maine's  pollution laws.

The Friends of Penobscot Bay are insisting that under VRAP's decision matrix, Maine DEP needs to incorporate "Tier III" extensive community review of  GAC's  cleanup plan. Under Tier III  the community has a say in the extent of  cleanup  the company must perform. More about the Matrix

FOPB executive director  Ron Huber said that the people who fish, clam, birdwatch and beachcomb there want the cleanup as complete as possible.

"Unless they get to put their two cents in," Huber said, "the state could approve a  token cosmetic cleanup that doesn't stop the pollution of the harbor, nor remove the waste already tainting a portion of the flats.

That's not going to happen, he said.

This won't be easy for DEP. .  "GAC Chemical's CEO David Colter and Governor Lepage  are close acquaintances,"  he  noted. "The governor  just gave GAC Chemical a 'Business Excellence' award for a successful trade mission.  But these don't absolve GAC  of accountability for the decades of acid waste discharges from their property."

"True Business Excellence includes GAC dealing with its legacy wastes" Huber said. "If GAC will stop beating the bay, we will give them an Environmental Excellence award."

Historic Pollution Well Documented
Activists contend the state's own documents show that between 1940 and 1970,  large amounts of waste from fertilizer and alum manufacturing operations  were dumped into wooden containment cells along the company-  owned shoreline  along Kidder Point.

The records also detail numerous acid spills large and small that have gone gone directly into those collapsing containment cells.

"Their 1980s acid spill maps show unlawfully low pHs in the same vicinity that we citizen scientists and  a university professor detected last  year." said Ron Huber  of Friends of Penobscot Bay. This is  a chronic problem that is not going to fix itself.  EPA knows it. DEP knows it. GAC has finally admitted that it too knows it."

Further, the group says,  federally owned flats and beaches across the pocket cove from GAC Chemical  are being impacted by  the highly acidic plumes that  emanate from beneath the abandoned sulfuric acid facility  and travel across  that pocket cove.  They say that  EPA has no choice but to protect "their" property from the GAC pollution.

"GAC has pulled the trigger," said Ron Huber of Friends of Penobscot Bay. "Uncle Sam can try to pretend GAC missed, but that red fluid leaking out and across the people's clamflats there tells a different story

A number of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) have been identified by SPECIATE as being present in the phosphate manufacturing process. Some HAPs identified include hexane, methyl alcohol, formaldehyde, methyl
ethyl ketone, benzene, toluene, and styrene. Heavy metals such as lead and mercury are present in the phosphate rock. The phosphate rock is mildly radioactive due to the presence of some radionuclides.
No emission factors are included for these HAPs, heavy metals, or radionuclides due to the lack of sufficient data.

Aug 28, 2014

GAC Chemical: Documents show DEP did not test waste site before declaring it safe.

Group asks Attorney general's office to investigate allegations of attempted deception by DEP official.

SEARSPORT State officials took no samples and made no tests before concluding earlier this year that highly acidic industrial wastes eroding into Stockton Harbor in Searsport pose no threat to people, pets, or wildlife.

This according to documents released to Friends of Penobscot Bay under the Maine Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) by Maine Department of Environmental Protection's Eastern Maine Regional Office director Susanne Miller.  (Summary of documents and list of persons mentioned in them.)

According to FOPB, Miller polled all DEP bureaus on their oversight of GAC Chemical. “Result? Not a single DEP staffer has GAC's eroding shoreline waste dumps on their plate", said Ron Huber of Friends of Penobscot Bay. "No one has tested anything there. Miller's claims that all's fine with GAC's toxic erosion is a bunch of hot air." he said. "In short, the empress has no clothes."

"Has discovery of this lack of oversight stimulated action by Maine DEP? Yes, but seeming only to cover up. Not deal with it."

Huber said people need not wonder why the LePage administration is sanctioning the ongoing poisoning of a harbor cove and all the people who innocently fish, clam, dig worms and beachcomb there.

"It appears that polluter GAC Chemical Corp's CEO David Colter is simply too cheap to order a reasonable clean up of the company's legacy mess," Huber said. "Maybe he's concerned about shareholder blowback for "wasting" company money on nature." 

"But," he continued, "with his political connections to the Blaine House, that's one form of waste that Mr. Colter need not worry about."
Not all in DEP are unhappy with that. DEP's Eastern Maine Regional director Susanne Miller also seems an enthusiastic supporter of polluter-coddling and an opponent of transparency in government

"Miller is one of those revolving-door industry officials hired by DEP Commissioner Patty Aho to weaken the agency on behalf of big industry", Huber said. "Forcing GAC to face its pollution woes and pay to remediate them would be a black mark against her when she returns to her former employer Hitachi Corp or elsewhere in industrial consultant-land. So instead of the transparency needed to get the company to be accountable for his wastes, Miller chooses opacity as a way to let GAC Chemical pollute in peace."

Worst of all, Huber said, Miller is abusing the state's Freedom of Access Act. "She repeatedly lied about her phone logs when we asked for them under the Act. She finally produced a small number of cellphone call records, and has now admitted that there are more groundline phone records that she failed to disclose.  If we can't trust Miller to be truthful when responding to a FOAA request, how can we trust her word on anything she's doing?"

FOPB has asked the Attorney General's office to investigate Miller's deceptions and determine if she "willfully" violated the act. See attached copy of email  While the fine is small and would be paid by the department, not by Miller, Huber said, "we hope that the agency will transfer her to another job where she won't be such a threat to nature - and to democracy."

Friends of Penobscot Bay: People who care about Maine's biggest bay.

Jul 25, 2014

News: Activists continue to push for official investigation of Kidder Point erosion

Activists continue to push for official investigation of Kidder Point erosion

Photo by: Jordan BaileyAn aerial view of the GAC Chemical Corp. property in Searsport, courtesy of Project LightHawk.
SEARSPORT — Friends of Penobscot Bay, an activist group, is facing obstacles as it continues to call for an official investigation into the possible erosion of legacy wastes from the property of GAC Chemical Corporation in Searsport.
The group maintains that wastes from former uses of the site are running off into the shoreline sediments of Kidder Point and the adjacent mudflats.
Dr. Mark Green, an oceanography professor at St. Joseph's College in Standish, tested samples of mud FOPB members collected from the area and sent him according to his instructions, and found the samples to be unusually acidic. Green concluded in an April 9 report on the study, “Results presented here clearly demonstrate a significant anthropogenic acid source and should merit concern for the well being of local residents in contact with these sediments, recreation in the immediate area, and wildlife.”
Several attempts by FOPB to prompt official investigations have dead-ended. At the group's request The Department of Environmental Protection did a site visit and visual inspection of the property in October 2013 and found no reason to further investigate. FOPB then filed a complaint with the National Response Center of the Environmental Protection Agency. Officer Timothy Balunis of the U.S. Coast Guard base in Portland was assigned to review the DEP's documentation related to the site and materials provided by FOPB. He also concluded that there was no need for further investigation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, at the request of FOPB, is planning to do a site walk, but Kelsey O'Neil said in a phone call with The Journal July 22 that this should not be characterized as an investigation.
"We don't anticipate finding anything more than the state found," O'Neil said. "The state has been doing a lot of sampling over the years and has a relationship with GAC and with Friends of Penobscot Bay. GAC has been cooperative and compliant, and at this point there is no reason to believe that further action is necessary."
Searsport will not investigate
When FOPB member Harlan McLoughlin requested at the July 15 Searsport selectmen's meeting that Searsport "take some samples like we took, find a reputable lab to test them and then decide on what your action would be from there," board chair Aaron Fethke agreed with the Department of Marine Resource's statement to the Bangor Daily News that the study is not verifiable.
McLoughlin explained that the study is verifiable: "This is why we were so careful," he said. "In science..., other people have to be able to do what you did using what you used the way you did it. If the guy at DEP says they can’t verify [our] samples, then test your own samples."
"No that's not how it works, Harlan" Fethke responded. "If we can’t make sure your testing was accurate then I don't think the study holds water. No one can verify that you did it correctly."
Fethke confirmed the town would not be doing its own testing in a phone call with The Journal July 21. "Testing is done by the DEP and the DMR," he said. "Municipalities don't get involved in that."
Scientist defends original study
Green, who has recently been awarded his third National Science Foundation grant to continue his pioneering studies on the effects of acidification on juvenile clams and has been appointed to Maine's Ocean Acidification Commission by DMR Commissioner Patrick Kelliher, wrote to The Journal July 21 about how the sampling process could have affected the test results. He said the sample containers he received were completely full of mud with no head-space, meaning that there was very little oxygen available for bacteria, and that the samples had been put on ice, which made the bacteria metabolism drop to a very slow rate. But the effect of any bacteria action would be a raise in pH, not a lowering, he explained, because alkalinity is produced in the absence of oxygen during bacterial respiration.
"There is no amount of time these samples could have sat around to give you the low values that were recorded, in my opinion," he said.
Green also doesn't believe the samples were contaminated, accidentally or deliberately, because the pH changes appeared to follow a pattern, increasing away from a low, highly acidic region as one proceeds seaward. Such a pattern would be very hard to achieve through doctoring the samples.
"At the end of the day, I only received the mud samples as an overnight delivery and had no oversight of the collection," Green said. "If [DMR and the Searsport select board] dismissed them out of hand, I find that to be pretty ridiculous and not at all based on knowledge of how these samples would behave post-collection prior to my measuring them. If they dismissed them because they don't trust the original source of the samples... when they measure them again they'll see the same values generated."
Searsport Police get involved
In the meantime, the group has been going to the shore at Kidder Point each Sunday to warn the public of the potential dangers in area, but their right to do so is being challenged.
“Searsport police threatened arrest for criminal trespass if we continued to gather samples there,” FOPB president Ron Huber said in an email. "We consider the threat to arrest sediment samplers to be suggestive ... of something to hide."
Searsport Police Chief Richard LaHaye said on three Sundays — June 29, July 6 and July 13 — police were called to the area by someone at GAC Chemical reporting trespassing. The first two Sundays a police officer spoke with the FOPB members at the shore, gathered information about who was there and why, and made them aware of the laws against trespassing. The police took no action at that time, he said. The third Sunday, police observed someone with a fishing pole on the shore.
“I'm aware of the fishing and fowling laws on shoreline property that borders private property, and the individual did have a fishing pole so we did not address that individual,” LeHaye said.
LeHaye indicated that he was waiting to find out if the GAC deed extends to the low water mark or to the high water mark, which will make a difference as to how the trespassing laws are enforced.
“If people don't have a right to be there, then they shouldn't be there,” he said.
The Journal consulted quitclaim deed 01902 (Book 1440, page 294), of March 8, 1994, in which Delta Chemical granted General Alum New England Corp two parcels of land The deed indicates the boundary is at the low tide line. The first parcel's shoreline boundary is described as: “Thence continuing on the same course to the low water line of [Stockton] Harbor; thence in a generally southwesterly direction following said mean low water line a distance of two thousand thirty (2,030) feet more or less” to the boundary of Parcel 2. Parcel 2's shoreline boundary is described as “continuing on the same course to the mean low water line of [Stockton] Harbor; thence … following the mean low water line of said Harbor, to a point at a corner of Parcel 1...”
Observations from above
On July 17, FOPB’s Olivia Gomes and Robert Huber, with the help of Project LightHawk, a non-profit which donates flights to groups engaged in conservation projects, took aerial photos of the GAC Chemical plant, the shoreline and the cove. Their photographs showed a red discoloration of sediment that appeared to be washing out from shore.
FOPB will be passing on their photos and video to the EPA as it conducts its asessment, which Kelsey O'Neil said in an email to Ron Huber includes reviewing data collected by the state and FOPB, meeting with the parties and visiting the site to observe current conditions.
"No sampling is planned at this first site visit,” O’Neil wrote in the email.

Jul 10, 2014

Green crab "harvest facilitation" public hearing Monday July 14, 2014

The European Green Crab seems to  have dropped sharply this year in upper Penobscot Bay -  both in the Bagaduce River and in Searsport Harbor.

But Mainers must still be prepared for when the next spike in green crab numbers happens - Weather related? Have they moved away from the plundered shores  and gone subtidal?  Whatever  the reasons, Maine's policy is to facilitate their capture and death.

On Monday July 14th the Maine Department of Marine Resources will hold a public hearing on the newest regs at DMR HQ. Friends of Penobscot Bay will be there.

Read all about it:
Green Crab Harvest Facilitation; Ch. 8.02 Compliance & Ch. 8.20(A) Harvester Reporting Green Crabs. Proposed Rulemaking (7pg pdf)

PUBLIC HEARING: Monday July 14, 2014. 1 p.m. Natural Resources Service Center.  Room 106. 6 Beech Street, Hallowell, Maine 


"This proposed regulation would improve the ability of individuals to collect and remove from coastal Maine waters the invasive and damaging green crab species. The considerable adverse effect of green crab predation on Maine’s valuable shellfish population has increased the importance of streamlining and improving DMR regulations regarding the harvest of green crabs." 

"The proposed regulations include: eliminating the restriction on the taking of green crabs as bycatch by licensed commercial lobster harvesters; no longer requiring a lobster/crab license holder to obtain a green crab-only license in order to sell green crabs; eliminating the harvester reporting requirement for green crabs; and clarifying requirements prohibiting harvesting green crabs at night and the usage of unapproved bait."


Jun 26, 2014

Newspaper: Study finds acidic mud at Kidder Point

Study finds acidic mud at Kidder Point

Local group calls for action
By Jordan Bailey | Jun 25, 2014  Waldo Village Soup/Republican Journal
Photo by: Jordan BaileyFriends of Penobscot Bay President Ron Huber points toward one of the areas where low pH was measured.
SEARSPORT — A study by Dr. Mark Green, environmental science professor at St. Joseph’s College in Standish and ocean acidification expert, found sediment along the shore on the western side of Kidder Point in Searsport to be “extremely acidic,” and a local group is calling for federal agencies to investigate the site.
At the request of Friends of Penobscot Bay, pH of mud was measured at 22 sites on the east side of Sears Island and the west side of Kidder Point. Green reported one location measuring a pH of 1.4 and the rest ranged from 4.55 to 7.15. The average of all the sample measurements was 6.03. Sediments with pH measurements in the 6's and below, Green said in his April 9 report on the study, should be considered incapable of supporting any marine life. In a quick microscopic analysis of the sediments tested, he said he did not see evidence of any of the microscopic organisms that are usually ubiquitous in coastal mud.
The report concluded, “Results presented here clearly demonstrate a significant anthropogenic acid source and should merit concern for the well-being of local residents in contact with these sediments, recreation in the immediate area and wildlife.” Green also expressed the concern in a message sent with the report that metals that would normally be locked in sediment particles could be mobilized by the acidity of the environment.
At a meeting with The Journal April 18 for a previous article, GAC President David Colter and GAC's environmental consultant John Pond of CES Inc. explained that GAC has a fully implemented Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan by which stormwater is treated because of wastes present at the site from its historic uses.
"If GAC wasn't here," Pond said, "the stormwater would be running off  pollution into the bay."
However, Green stated in his report, “Based on the proximity of these stations to the phosphogypsum waste area at Kidder Point there is little doubt that these deposits are being severely impacted by runoff at the adjacent shoreline.”
A group of 10 people met at Sears Island Sunday, June 22, for an informational tour of the Kidder Point shoreline led by FOPB President Ron Huber. The group walked to Green’s sample sites and observed the erosion along the western side of Kidder Point. They saw that the sediment was discolored in areas, with red and yellow hues, and yellow pebbles, believed to be sulfur from a former sulfur acid plant on the property, were peppered among the gravel and cobbles. The erosion appeared to be controlled on the eastern side of the point.
FOPB had been bringing their concerns about this site to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's attention for several years, and in response an inspector from the department did a site visit October 18, 2013. Karen Knuuti of the Division of Solid Waste Management described a visual inspection of the site in a memo in which she noted areas of yellow and orange discoloration of sediments and some gradual erosion. The only discussion of phosphogypsum in the memo is: “Regarding phosphogypsum, it is not clear if this waste would have been produced by the superphosphate process. I saw no indication of large quantities of waste in the area we walked over." Knuuti also discusses reviewing logs of borings that were made in the area as part of an investigation in the late 1980s. "Sulfur [was noted] in one boring," the memo states. "No other waste materials are noted [in the logs].”
DEP Communications Director Jessamine Logan told The Journal June 23 “the department found no reason to further investigate the property.”
However, many on the June 22 shoreline walk felt the DEP should continue their investigation.
Randall Parr, Green Party District 95 candidate for the Maine House of Representatives, read from a statement he had prepared: “Failure of Maine state agencies to investigate acidification... is a dereliction of duty, shirking their responsibility to the people who depend on the sea for livelihoods and recreation. A scientist who has taken samples determined that there is reason to investigate this site further.”
Mike Dassatt, treasurer of Downeast Lobsterman’s Association, pointed out that there is no life “not even seaweed” along the portion of shoreline near the test site. “From Downeast Lobstermen's Association’s point of view,” he said, “if there's nothing to be concerned about, and there's nothing to hide, then there shouldn't be any reason [for the DEP] not to take samples and get them tested.”
Frustrated with the DEP’s response, FOPB filed a complaint through the National Response Center (NRC), the federal contact point for reporting all hazardous substance releases and oil spills, but it is unclear if the Environmental Protection Agency or Coast Guard will conduct a full investigation.
Timothy Balunis, chief of incident management at the U.S. Coast Guard office in Portland, has been assigned to the case. He emphasized in a call with The Journal that “the site is not a Superfund site," and their response is not a Superfund investigation, as has been implied in a press release by FOPB, but simply the standard procedure after any NRC report is made. According to the EPA website, reports to the NRC activate the National Contingency Plan in which the on-scene coordinator assigned to the incident collects available information on the size and nature of the release, the facility or vessel involved, and the party or parties responsible for the release. Balunis is currently working with the Maine DEP and is reviewing the department’s findings.
“DEP has gone up several times and have been thorough and pro-active in looking into the site,” Balunis said.
At this point, Balunis says, he is not sure if the Coast Guard will be doing any of its own inspections or sampling, and he has made no determination as to hazards to public health at the site.
If state and federal agencies are not yet pursuing full investigations of the site, GAC Chemical may be in the process of doing so voluntarily. A request for comment on GAC’s plans regarding testing, mitigation or cleanup of the area tested by Green was not responded to by press time, but in an email to Huber dated May 21, Colter said “GAC is voluntarily exploring options and alternatives with an environmental consulting firm,” and though no specific timetable can be determined at this early stage of their exploratory efforts, GAC “will continue those efforts in a deliberate manner.”

Jun 16, 2014

Islesboro Island Trust unveils alternative dredge plan. Plus Media reaction to Report

PENOBSCOT BAY. Plans for expansion dredging of Searsport Harbor came under fresh fire today, as a bay area land trust and other opponents of the project renewed their call for the US Army Corps of Engineers and Maine Department of Transportation to perform an Environmental Impact Study on the controversial project before further action is taken. See media coverage at end of release

Islesboro Island Trust today released a report by prominent consulting firm Dawson and Associates that notes that the agencies have not considered 

less damaging alternatives, nor considered the impact to bay fisheries of the release of large quantitities of methylmercury into Penobscot Bay water column.

The Dawson & Associates Report  APPRAISAL OF SEARSPORT DEEPENING PROJECT (pdf) suggests maintenance dredging the entry to Searsport Harbor only to mintenance standard to 35 feet rather than 45, and instead  deepening the layover berths next to the piers to 45 feet. The report says

97% of projected shipping benefits identified by the Corps in their proposal would be achieved using this alternative, the report says, "but would require substantially less dredging than the Corps’ proposal."

Ron Huber, executive director of Friends of Penobscot Bay lauded the report.
"Our state and federal governments need to take the concerns of Penobscot Bay area citizens seriously." Huber said. "This project could radically change the lives of people who fish Penobscot Bay. And those who beachcomb, swim and sail it. "

FOPB's concerns are the same as other dredge critics: the mega-dredge could bring mercury, then methylmercury resuspension, reduce primary production by bay seaweeds and microalgae by turning the water nearly opaque for up to a year, & could stimulate increased coastal industrial growth in the upper Penobscot Bay estuary.

"With the river dams coming down, this estuary needs more protection, not less" he said. "As more and more seafood species come up Penobscot Bay and down Penobscot River, this estuary, as the transition crossroad for them, must be kept ecologically sound."

For more information about the Dawson  & Associates report contact Steve Miller, Islesboro Island Trust 207-734-6907 iitsmill@gmail.com


 Group Unveils Possible Alternative to Searsport Dredge plan. WLBZ

Possible alternative to Searsport dredge plan advanced. WCSH 6

Group advances alternative Searsport Dredging Plan MPBN

Land Trust Promotes Alternative to Searsport Harbor Dredging Bangor Daily News