SEARSPORT – In a violation notice, Sprague Operating Resources LLC, with headquarters in Portsmouth, N.H., has been asked by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to produce a plan by March 1 to minimize the potential for cargo, other than petroleum products, from spilling into Maine waters as it is being transferred from vessel to pier.
And, by March 1, the publicly-held Sprague, a supplier of energy and materials handling services, is to, “develop a standard operating procedure to be followed in the event of any type of cargo, other than petroleum products, being lost overboard or spilled and submit it to the DEP for review and approval.”
Sprague operates a bulk fuel and cargo storage and transfer terminal at Mack Point, in Searsport, loading and offloading cargo and fuel for storage and highway transport.
The order followed a DEP investigation into the December 2 drop — and dispersion — of of baled waste, mostly plastic pieces, into Searsport waters, at the northern end of Penobscot Bay.
That day, two bales measuring approximately 42 inches by 42 inches by 72 inches, and weighing approximately 2,500 pounds each, slipped from straps as they were being lifted from ship to shore, falling into the ocean.
One bale broke open after hitting the pier, fell into the water and sank, the DEP report said.
“The other bale fell directly into the water between the pier and the ship, remained intact and slowly sank over the period of 5-10 minutes,” the report said. “During that time, it was carried by wind and current north around the bow of the ship, then sank out of sight north and east of the ship.”
That bale was eventually located by a diver on Dec. 23.
According to the violation notice, Sprague personnel had been operating the crane around 1 p.m., Dec. 2, unloading baled waste from the cargo ship M/V Sider London. In this case, the waste — solid recovered fuel — was destined for incineration at the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company in Orrington. The waste originated from Northern Ireland, according to letsrecycle.com.
Composition of the baled waste included approximately 80% shredded plastic, 11% paper, 8% fabric and 1% other non-putrescible materials, the DEP said. The bales were wrapped in a thin plastic film for transit.
“Sprague reported later that they did not immediately attempt to recover the material due to poor weather and safety concerns and the lack of response equipment,” the DEP said. “After the incident, Sprague instructed staff to monitor the shore of the Sprague property for debris related to the incident.”
The Jan. 15 notice (see attached PDF for the full DEP violation notice) alleges Sprague failed to comply with Maine’s Water Pollution Control Law, and its stipulation that, “no person may directly or indirectly discharge or cause to be discharged any pollutant without first obtaining a license therefor from the department.”
In addition to the DEP’s request for Sprague to produce incident plans and procedures, the state agency also said: “The nature and circumstances surrounding the violations discovered has led DEP to conclude that final resolution of this matter should include monetary penalties as part of a civil penalty action. A prompt response and full and timely compliance with this NOV are two factors that may be used by the DEP in assessing a civil monetary penalty.”
The sequence of events, as alleged by the DEP, follows:
“Sprague reported later that they did not immediately attempt to recover the material due to poor weather and safety concerns and the lack of response equipment,” the report said. “After the incident, Sprague instructed staff to monitor the shore of the Sprague property for debris related to the incident.”
It was noted that on Dec. 4, a storm bringing high wind and rain, made further investigation and potential recovery difficult.
On Dec. 8, “the DEP received a complaint regarding garbage/plastic in the water and on the shore of the causeway leading to Sears Island and on the western shore of Sears Island itself.”
“DEP was aware of the SRF’s unloading at the terminal and because the material referenced in the complaint sounded similar to the SRF, DEP staff contacted Sprague to inform them of the complaint,” the report said. “Suspecting that the material had come from the terminal, DEP advised Sprague to inspect the shorelines and clean up any material. Sprague did not report the lost cargo during that communication.
“On December 9, 2020, DEP response staff visited the site. Sprague reported the December 2, 2020 incident regarding lost plastic bales. DEP was informed that Sprague staff had begun inspecting beaches/shoreline and collecting plastic waste. Sprague hired a contractor to conduct a more thorough inspection and clean up.
“On December 10, 2020, a professional diver hired by Sprague searched for the second bale in the approximate location it was last seen 8 days prior. The diver was unable to locate the second bale.
“On December 9-18, 2020 Sprague continued to inspect the shore daily and clean-up the spilled material using their own personnel and contractors while aided by a large number of volunteers. Sprague stockpiled the collected material in bags near the pier where the spill occurred.
“On December 15, 2020, DEP staff met onsite with Sprague to review the incident and evaluate the status of the clean-up efforts. DEP staff strongly encouraged Sprague to pursue additional search methods to determine the disposition of the second bale. DEP staff inspected the western shore of Sears Island, south to the large sandbar. Shredded plastic consistent with the SRF was observed in moderately low concentrations in the seaweed at the high-water mark. Little plastic was observed below the high-water mark. No large clumps of SRF were observed. Sprague personnel and contractors continued to pick up plastic debris regardless of its origin, including water bottles, large rigid plastic items and other trash.
“On December 15, 2020 Sprague provided the Department with a proposed forward action plan that included continuing to clean plastic from the Sears Island shore through December 18, continuing to pursue search and recovery efforts for the missing second bale, setting up a reporting e-mail for the general public, investigating and cleaning up any material suspected of originating from the spill, and continued daily inspections of the causeway and Sears Island shore.
“On December 16, 2020, Sprague set up an e-mail for the general public to report plastic spills.
“On December 16, 2020 Department staff followed up with Sprague regarding the action plan detailed on by Sprague on December 15.
“On December 21, 2020, Sprague employed a vessel equipped with side scan sonar to search the cove northeast of the pier. During the search a target was identified that warranted further investigation by a dive team.
“On December 23, 2020, a team of professional divers hired by Sprague investigated the target identified on December 21, 2020 and located the second bale of material. The divers secured the bale and it was recovered intact.
“On January 5, 2021, DEP authorized Sprague to reduce inspections to weekly, maintain the reporting e-mail, and suspend current clean-up efforts.”