SOUTH PORTLAND — Willard Beach, a popular destination for sunbathers and dog-walkers across southern Maine, could remain closed for days because used motor oil that likely originated from a service station was discharged from a storm drain pipe at the beach on Tuesday.

Investigators have identified the responsible party and no further discharge from the source is anticipated, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The agency didn’t name the responsible party or say how much oil was spilled.

However, a statement from the city Tuesday night said investigators were checking a possible link to an oil product leak also reported Tuesday from an address on Cottage Road, about a half-mile from the beach.

And on Wednesday, a crew from Clean Harbors, an environmental services company, was working at the former Hill’s Service Station at 491 Cottage Road, where the acrid odor of used motor oil filled the air and the pavement was covered with petroleum residue and patches of granular white absorbent material.

Employees of Clean Harbors, an environmental services company, were working Wednesday at the former Hill’s Service Station on Cottage Road. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The DEP, U.S. Coast Guard and the city’s Water Resource Protection Division mounted a joint investigation Tuesday evening, after firefighters responded to a report of a sheen on the water at the beach that rims Simonton Cove on Casco Bay.

Clean Harbors was contracted to conduct the cleanup, which includes collecting any contaminated seaweed and other materials from the beach, and working with the city to collect any remaining oily waste in the storm water drainage system, the DEP said.

The 4-acre, crescent-shaped beach stretches from Southern Maine Community College to Fisherman’s Point. The storm drain outfall pipe juts from the sand at the center of the beach, near the main entrance, bathhouse, snack bar and playground.

Often busy this time of year, the beach was immediately cleared of people and pets and closed to public access on Tuesday night. It would remain closed through Wednesday at least, the DEP said.

Clean Harbors, an environmental services company, was contracted to conduct the cleanup at Willard Beach in South Portland after oil was discharged from a storm drain pipe. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Maxwell Smith, a DEP oil and hazardous materials responder, was at the beach Tuesday night through Wednesday afternoon, taking sand and water samples and keeping people and their dogs off the popular beach. Dogs are permitted on the municipal beach from 7-9 a.m. and 7-9 p.m. May 1 to Sept. 30.

“It was pretty hectic this morning,” Smith said Wednesday. “Yesterday, people were swimming in oil. Dogs were rolling in it. Then we were fighting the tide coming in.”

Exactly when the beach will reopen was unknown Wednesday afternoon, but Smith said he hoped to complete the cleanup and get positive lab results as soon as possible. It will be up to city officials to decide when to reopen the beach, he said.

“I want to give this beach back to the people as soon as possible,” Smith said, “hopefully by the weekend.”

He said the party found responsible for the spill would be fined and charged for the cost of cleanup.

Reopening will be assessed daily as the cleanup continues and test results are analyzed, the DEP said. Neighbors may notice some petroleum odors as a result of the spill, but there is no danger to public health.

“The safety of the public is our primary concern,” said Coast Guard Capt. Amy Florentino.

Exactly when Willard Beach will reopen was unknown Wednesday afternoon. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Hill’s Service Station was owned and operated for many years by Richard Hill, who died in December 2020. Neighbors said the station has a new owner and appeared to be undergoing renovations in recent days, including installation of a new roof and power-washing in the service bays.

According to city tax rolls, the garage was purchased in July 2020 by AKA LLC of 398 Spurwink Road, Cape Elizabeth, which is a property owned by Tony Dell Aquila, an acoustics design contractor. Dell Aquila didn’t respond to a call for information about the garage.

Friends of Casco Bay issued a statement on the spill Wednesday afternoon.

“We are as concerned as you are when we hear about spills like this,” said Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “We are grateful for how quickly the Coast Guard and state and local officials responded and contained the spill. They are keeping us up to date as they do their job. When it is appropriate, I will tour the scene with these officials for insight into the spill and the cleanup.”


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