In this Dec. 9, 2020, file photo, people clean up shredded plastic that was coming in from Northern Ireland and headed to an Orrington waste-to-electricity plant after it fell into the water and began washing up on the shores of Sears Island. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

State environmental officials have approved an agreement fining Sprague Operating Resources nearly $18,000 for spilling more than a ton of plastic debris into Penobscot Bay last year.

Last December, two bales of debris, which were en route from Ireland to an incinerator in Orrington, dropped into the water as they were unloaded from a cargo vessel.

The spill wasn’t reported to the state until about a week later, after the Department of Environmental Protection received a complaint about waste coming ashore near Sears Island, and then visited the site. Cleanup continued for a few weeks, but plastic remained in the environment.

Under a consent agreement approved by the citizen-led Maine Board of Environmental Protection on Wednesday, the company will be required to pay a $17,800 fine.

The Maine attorney general’s office confirmed it had signed off on the agreement Thursday afternoon.

Pamela Parker, with the Department of Environmental Protection’s water enforcement program, said that fine was appropriate, as the plastic residue will persistently impact the surrounding environment.

“And it actually, because of that persistence, and the potential to break down into the microplastics and impact small marine invertebrates, crustaceans, we actually took that into effect, in the penalty evaluations,” Parker said. “And this actually received some of the higher environmental impact scores, if you will, on the penalty, than a number of the ones we’ve done historically.”

The state said Sprague also made changes to its operations manual to reduce the potential for any future spills.

But Peter Blair, with the Conservation Law Foundation, argued that the fine didn’t go far enough. He said that the company should have alerted state regulators to the spill quickly.

“This breach of trust does need to be sufficiently punished, not only to deter other companies, but to make sure Sprague operates correctly in the future,” Blair said.

The Islesboro Land Trust called for a fine of $340,000.

During Wednesday’s meeting, a company official apologized that regulators had to deal with the incident and said it had created several new procedures to reduce future risk of debris spills.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.