2013-06-21 / Front Page

To foil oil

Voters look at hefty November ballot
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


South Portland Mayor Tom Blake, holding his granddaughter Solaya Blake-St. Helmy, becomes the 3,778th South Portland resident to sign a petition aiming to block the transport of tar sands oil to Casco Bay as Carol Masterson of the Concerned Citizens of South Portland looks on. The city clerk’s office validated the 985 necessary signatures to submit the potential ordinance to the city council. (Jack Flagler photo) South Portland Mayor Tom Blake, holding his granddaughter Solaya Blake-St. Helmy, becomes the 3,778th South Portland resident to sign a petition aiming to block the transport of tar sands oil to Casco Bay as Carol Masterson of the Concerned Citizens of South Portland looks on. The city clerk’s office validated the 985 necessary signatures to submit the potential ordinance to the city council. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – The South Portland ballot for the upcoming general election in November began to take shape Monday, June 17, as city voters will have a number of important decisions in their hands.

A citizens’ group working to block the transportation of tar sands oil into Casco Bay said they collected 3,779 signatures in 11 days to support their ballot initiative. As of Tuesday, June 18, the South Portland City Clerk’s office has verified 985 necessary signatures to validate the citizens initiative, which will now be scheduled for council review.

The group, Concerned Citizens of South Portland, is proposing an ordinance change that would prevent Portland Pipe Line Corp. from building infrastructure on the pier near Bug Light Park that the company would need to treat the chemicals necessary to transport tar sands oil.

Members of the citizens’ group said Monday morning the potential environmental effects of a spill and the aesthetic effect of two smoke stacks close to Bug Light Park present too great a risk to the South Portland community.

The same night, the South Portland City Council unanimously approved a bond ordinance that will ask voters whether $14 million should be appropriated for a new public works, parks and transportation facility on Highland Avenue.

A new public works building has been at the top of the city’s wish list for years because city staff say the conditions of the current building on O’Neil Street are unsafe. Staff originally planned to put a bond measure in front of voters last fall, but the city council ultimately accepted Finance Director Greg L’Heureux’s suggestion to delay the project a year to spread out the impact on taxpayers to coincide with retiring debt.

Voters will also decide four municipal seats in the election this fall. Two spots will be open on the school board, as the terms for Chairman Richard Carter and District 2 representative Sara Goldberg both expire. Carter will not be eligible for re-election because of term limits. At the council level, Mayor Tom Blake and Councilor Alan Livingston face expiring terms in 2013; both are at-large seats.

Blake spoke to a crowd outside city hall Monday morning to support the initiative that would block tar sands oil transport to South Portland before signing the petition as a private citizen. He described his vacation with his wife Dee Dee to Arkansas this spring, when he witnessed the “disastrous consequences” of a tar sands oil spill in the town of Mayflower.

“From the locals we talked to and the stories we read to the gloomy pictures we saw, I feel certain that this is not what we want for South Portland,” Blake said. “We cannot stand by and let South Portland become another victim of the dangerous effects of tar sands oil.”

Blake was joined by a number of South Portland residents in speaking out against tar sands oil transportation at Monday morning’s press conference. At Monday night’s council meeting, Chris Gillis of the Portland Pipe Line Corp. weighed in to give his company’s side of the issue.

Gillis said Portland Pipe Line Corp. has provided local jobs in South Portland for 72 years and worked collaboratively with the community and the city in that time to be “a good corporate neighbor,” offering public access to five acres of its property at Bug Light Park and the Greenbelt Walkway.

Gillis said Portland Pipe Line Corp. is “disappointed” in the proposed ordinance change, but did not address its contents directly.

“We are evaluating details of the petition and will provide our comments and response at the appropriate time,” Gillis said.

James Gilboy, a member of the city’s board of education, spoke up during the citizen discussion session in support of Portland Pipe Line Corp.

“I would hate to see a company leave South Portland because we might have jumped the gun on changing our guidelines for zoning,” Gilboy said.

After citizen discussion, the council moved to a public forum on the public works facility. All six councilors said they are in support of the proposed new building on Highland Avenue, both to fix safety issues and redevelop the O’Neil Street area where the current building is located. However, resident Albert DiMillo spoke up to oppose the bond ordinance.

DiMillo said the real cost of the facility will be higher than $14 million because of interest payments the city will need to make in future years, and called the building a “$25 million mistake.”

Instead of building a new facility, DiMillo suggested the city focus on fixing safety issues at the O’Neil Street location without moving the public works, parks and recreation employees to the other side of the city.

“It should be torn down and replaced where it is. We’re wasting millions of dollars to make a piece of land buildable,” DiMillo said.

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