de64782d91803c97-mainecoast

Alex Depke watches with the governor as the seal they released makes it safely home in Portland, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

August/September 2006

Article by Ramona du Houx

Alex Depke was one of the many excited visitors to Fort Williams Park last year, anticipating being able to see wild seals released back into the ocean after being rehabilitated by Marine Animal Lifeline. When a friendly man began talking to him and his parents, Alex was comfortable and instinctively liked him. Then the man asked him for help in releasing a seal, and Alex’s eyes lit up. Governor Baldacci had found himself a capable young partner. Together they successfully watched their seal swim to freedom.

That same summer Governor Baldacci requested that Casco Bay be designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as a no-discharge zone. One year later the request was granted. The no-discharge zone designation eliminates waste discharges from the thousands of commercial and recreational vessels that use Casco Bay.

Casco Bay includes the port of Portland and more than 20 harbors, which means that the designation extends up the Fore, Presumpscot, Royal, Cousins, Harraseeket, and New Meadows rivers. The designation protects over 229 square miles of marine habitat and over 197,000 acres of shellfish harvesting areas.

“Casco Bay is a vital economic resource for Maine,” said Governor Baldacci. “By protecting the bay, we help protect our economic future as well as the health and safety of our Maine citizens. I am proud to add this initiative to a long list of acts which will protect one of Maine’s finest natural resources.”

It already is currently illegal to dump raw sewage into coastal waters from a boat or ship.

“This is complemented by a law I signed, and the DEP implemented, instituting the nation’s first permitting program for cruise ship vessel discharges along our entire coast,” said the governor.

The no-discharge designation means that even treated sewage cannot be discharged into the bay, because it has nutrients that can upset the ecological balance of the bay. All remaining “straight pipes” that illegally dump sewage from coastal and island homes into the bay will also be eliminated.

“This is going to make a huge difference,” said Casco Bay Baykeeper Joe Payne who believes ships sometimes discharge partially treated waste in the bay and that making it illegal will help clean the water and the clam-flats. “This is the first designation of its kind in Maine. We’re hoping that, as Casco Bay goes in this case, so goes the rest of Maine.”

The Casco Bay area generates $450 million a year from fishing, tourism and recreation.

3e91028d525366d0-mainecoast1

Casco Bay Baykeeper Joe Payne thanked the governor for making Casco Bay a no-discharge area, keeping ships from dumping pollutants along Portland’s coast. This was the first designation of its kind in Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

“My vision for the Maine coast is one of balancing growth and development such that we excel in marine research and development, continue to offer high quality seafood products, and grow and diversify our ports, while conserving what is special about the coast,” said the governor, “protecting our environment.”

The governor has also:

• supported bonds for marine research and development, and pollution remediation;

• supported the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System, which provides real-time data to fishermen, researchers and the shipping industry;

• supported increased biotoxin testing in support of our clam fishery;

• created a current-use taxation program to offer tax relief to commercial fishing families;

• created a working waterfront pilot program to purchase development rights to important commercial access points;

• reformed aquaculture leasing laws to address public concerns;

• launched a study of how we manage our nearshore waters;

• created the Healthy Beaches monitoring program that informs the public about swimming advisories;

• addressed ways of growing fishing, aquaculture, and nature-based tourism in a sustainable fashion with his Natural Resources-Based Economy Initiative;

• provided land use planning assistance to Maine’s coastal towns to help them address development pressures;

• recognized that working waterfronts are in danger of being bought up, and through the Land for Maine’s Future program will purchase wharfs and waterfront buildings to help preserve them;

• written the president a strong letter opposing oil drilling off Maine’s coast.

Alex Depke is probably not aware of all the work the governor has done and continues to do to protect Maine’s coasts. But he will always remember the kind gentleman that took him under his wing on a summer’s morning, as they worked together releasing a seal back into his habitat — a habitat that is now protected for Alex’s generation and many more generations to come.