Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oil slick marsh

If you ever find yourself in dire need of some carcinogenic soil or a bunch of dirty styrofoam cups, keep this place in mind. This small wetland is wedged between a new connector road to I-295 and two large parking lots at the edge of the Plank (aka the Libbytown neighborhood). It seems likely that it was once an inlet to the Fore River estuary before development on Thompson's Point isolated it here.

Gasoline rainbows and a baffling chain-link fence in the middle of the water are symptoms of this wetland's biggest problems: it's surrounded by oil-drenched pavement, and it's on the fringes of property lines and anyone's sense of stewardship. Ironically, most of the polluted runoff comes from the parking lot of 50 Sewall Street, Portland's first certified green office building (its "for lease" sign, advertising not to critters in the water but to drivers on the out-of-sight highway, is visible in the upper left corner of the photo). An inch of rain falling on the adjacent 2-acre parking lot produces more than 54,000 gallons of stormwater, which washes a lot of garbage and petrochemicals on the pavement into this wetland.

Because this space is literally marginalized, at the edge of and several feet lower than the streets and parking lots that surround it, few people are aware of the pollution that affects it - which means that even fewer are willing to do anything about it. And just to kick it while its down, someone added a pointless chain link fence. The fence straddles a natural moat in between two steep embankments, but I suppose that someone wanted to be absolutely positive that no one would walk from the easily accessible public parking lot on one side to the easily accessible public road on the other side. Of course, the very occasional vagrant blogger is able to scale the fence without much difficulty, but whatever.

In spite of all the concrete encroachments, the polluted runoff from acres of surrounding parking lots, a worthless fence, and the noise and exhaust from the bus station next door, this is actually a pleasant, quiet place. When I walked down to take a closer look at it, I even surprised a muskrat in the water. I encourage more people to visit, especially the tenants of the "green" building next door. If we can make this place less marginal, we can make it less polluted as well.

1 comment:

Kevin Gardella said...

I am not sure about this observation. I vaguely recall some thing from one science class or another saying that swamps can create their own oily sheen. I am not sure but I believe I have seen this in maine in pristine wilderness bogs as well. The other stuff you mentioned is horrific of course. I had such a disaster of a marsh behind one of my dwellings before and it was repellent(to everything but bugs). developers will be developers.