A million gallons of partially treated sewage that spilled onto East End Beach and into Casco Bay on Thursday did more than close the beach and damage a recreational trail.

It also threw into doubt whether one of Portland’s signature summer events will be held Saturday.

But organizers for the Peaks to Portland Swim to Benefit Kids, which finishes at East End Beach, are optimistic the race will go on as scheduled, pending test results.

“The park rangers have run a series of tests,” said Meaghan Woodsome, marketing director for the YMCA of Southern Maine. “It takes 24 hours to get the results back. We anticipate we will get the first results back around noon (Friday). We’re feeling pretty positive that we’re moving forward with the race.”

Organizers will make a final decision Friday.

For 36 years, the YMCA of Southern Maine has put on the Peaks to Portland Swim – a marquee fundraiser for the YMCA. The 2.4-mile swim from Peaks Island to East End Beach is one of the oldest open water swims in the world.


That the sewage that spilled from the wastewater treament plant is “partially treated” didn’t make first-time entrant Julie Greene, 46, of Falmouth feel much better.

“Do you swim in a half-flushed toilet,” said Greene, who is working on her master’s degree in public health. “As part of my MPH program we had to take an environmental health class. I’ve been wondering if there’s going to be sewage in the water. I’d kind of back-burnered that concern.”

Merry Farnum, 65, of Falmouth, a veteran Peaks to Portland swimmer, said she’ll trust the judgment of the event organizers, regardless of their decision. This would be Farnum’s 31st Peaks to Portland. Her first was in 1985.

“Listen, 35 years ago there was toilet paper floating in the water and rats running around on the beach,” Farnum said. “The East End Beach used to be horrible.”

Still, water quality is a concern, said Farnum, who regularly swims in open water. She said she contracted bacterial pneumonia two years ago after swimming in “dirty water” at a lake.

“I would be upset if they canceled the race but I would understand why,” Farnum said.


The YMCA, which is a registered nonprofit, has a strict no-refund policy for Peaks to Portland. According to the event website, “There will be no refunds for any reason. Your registration is not refundable and is non-transferable.”

The race is a significant fundraiser for the YMCA. In additon to the $125 entry fee, swimmers are expected to raise or donate an additional $200. If they raise $400 or more the entry fee is waived.

About 500 people have registered to swim this year and the YMCA expects over $180,000 to be raised to benefit its youth programs.

“We know people have worked hard to be able to do this race,” Woodsome said. “We want to be able to hold it but we obviously want to make sure it’s safe for everyone.”

Holding the race on a different day or finishing in a different location are not viable options, Woodsome said. The race requires the closure of a shipping lane.

“It involves a massive collaborative effort with the harbor master and the city,” Woodsome said. “It’s really do or die for the date we choose. At this time there isn’t a backup location. Portland is an extremely busy harbor with multiple shipping lanes and this shipping lane that we cross is the least disruptive and the most historic for us.”


Greene said that she would be “crushed” if the race is canceled. She plans to swim with her sister, Emily Meagher of Vinalhaven.

“But I also don’t want to get e-coli from swimming in sewage,” Greene said.

“I’d like to have some evidence that they measured the water.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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