The Friends of Casco Bay began 2016 with a new baykeeper, a position the nonprofit has used for 25 years.
Environmental lawyer Ivy Frignoca was hired last fall and got to work in January, a year after longtime baykeeper Joe Payne retired. The New Jersey-born Frignoca has lived in the greater Portland area for more than 25 years and most recently worked for the Conservation Law Foundation, where she worked on some of the issues that will be her focus as baykeeper.
She talked to The Working Waterfront about her new role and how her past experiences have prepared her for it and the future of Casco Bay.
WW: Let’s start with some basics…
Frignoca: I have a degree in environmental studies from the University of Vermont. I self-designed my major to focus on water quality and public communication. I studied the impacts of phosphorus loading on Lake Champlain, which is a pretty strong parallel to nitrogen loading in Casco Bay. After graduating, I spent two years in South Carolina living on an island and teaching marine biology to middle school children, and worked for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation as a naturalist and the chief of conservation education. I then attended Maine Law School to gain more skills that I could use to advocate for environmental protections.
WW: What exactly is a baykeeper?
Frignoca: A baykeeper acts as the eyes, ears and voice of the bay. As Casco Baykeeper, I advocate on behalf of the bay, to protect and restore its water quality. It is my job to work with fishermen, businesses, government agencies, citizens and other stakeholders to identify critical problems that threaten the health of the bay and to help find and implement solutions that are practical, scientifically sound and effective.
WW: Is this, to your knowledge, a unique position found only in Maine or are there other baykeepers?
Frignoca: Under the umbrella of Friends of Casco Bay, the Casco Baykeeper is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, an international environmental movement. Joe Payne, the first Casco Baykeeper, was among the first waterkeepers in the world. He and Friends of Casco Bay helped found Waterkeeper Alliance and to develop the quality standards that all waterkeepers, including baykeepers, must follow. I adhere to these standards in performing my work.
Right now I am working with other waterkeepers on the testing protocol and research regarding the presence of microplastics in marine coastal waters. Friends of Casco Bay will conduct research on microbeads and plastics in Casco Bay this summer.
WW: What are your goals for your first year as baykeeper?
Frignoca: My broadest goal is to meet with other people and groups who depend upon a healthy Casco Bay. For example, I have met with the Coast Guard about oil spill prevention and clean up, the city of Portland about storm water pollution flowing through combined sewer overflows, and an advisory council working to clean up Mare Brook in Brunswick.
I [attended] the Fishermen’s Forum in the beginning of March to speak about the impact of microplastics on shellfish health, and I am meeting with other groups researching the impacts of ocean acidification on our coastal marine waters. I have been meeting with legislators about bills to protect our marine waters and lobbied successfully against a bill that would have weakened Maine’s law that protects against oil spills.
WW: Any thoughts about longer range goals?
Frignoca: It is critical to the health of the Bay that we eliminate sources of untreated sewage that continue to flow into the bay. The city and Portland Water District, under a court order issued in 1991, continue to work on this issue. I will work with them.
We also absolutely must get a handle on the changing dynamics caused by climate change. There are some parts of this problem we can fix; such as, if we reduce the amount of nitrogen entering the bay we may be able to prevent some effects of coastal acidification.
WW: My understanding is that this is not primarily a legal role, but how will your skills and experiences as a lawyer, especially as a trial lawyer, help you in your new role?
Frignoca: Part of my job requires reviewing water quality licenses and permits, and documents related to enforcement actions when the terms of those licenses and permits are violated. I also will review and comment on waste water license and permit applications. My legal training will serve well in performing this work.
In addition, my position as baykeeper requires me to listen and work with diverse interest groups. A great deal of my previous work as a lawyer involved listening to various sides of an issue, mediating and working with others to find creative solutions. Those skills will be very applicable to my role as baykeeper.
As a lawyer I learned a great deal about the science of water quality, public policy, and how the Clean Water Act and other federal and state laws work to protect our marine resources [which] complements the knowledge of the strong team already in place at Friends of Casco Bay.
Finally, although Friends of Casco Bay has a “work with” approach that has a history of achieving good results for the bay, we are not afraid to contemplate legal action if necessary.
WW: The Friends of Casco Bay press release also listed some of your other professional hats, including as a teacher of marine biology and ecology. Would you tell us a little about those earlier roles and how you think they will contribute to how you’ll do your new job as baykeeper?
Frignoca: I spent a lot of time dragging seining nets, scuba diving, exploring along the beach and in tidal flats and marshes. I learned a lot about marine life and life on an island.
In my work for the state of Vermont, I led programs in state parks, did management plans to protect natural areas, wrote publications and curricula, and did a great deal of public speaking on a wide range of environmental topics. I have already applied some of that knowledge to my new role as baykeeper.