2013-07-05 / Front Page

Public hearing set for tar sands

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – The South Portland City Council set two summer dates for further discussion of a citizenproposed ordinance that aims to block the transport of tar sands oil from Canada to Maine, but not without raising concerns the scope of the ordinance may be too wideranging.

The planning board will hold a workshop to discuss the Waterfront Protection Ordinance Tuesday, July 23. It will be followed by a council workshop and public hearing to discuss the issue Monday, Aug. 5 in advance of a scheduled November ballot measure.

A group of residents called Concerned Citizens of South Portland circulated a petition last month to bring the ordinance change to a referendum vote. The group, along with environmental activists throughout the state and country, believe tar sands oil poses a greater threat if spilled than crude oil, which the South Portlandbased Portland Pipe Line Corp. now transports from Casco Bay to Montreal.

The group also says Portland Pipe Line Corp. would need to build two smokestacks near Bug Light Pier to treat the chemicals that dilute tar sands oil, which would affect air quality and the aesthetic beauty of the coast.

Representatives of Portland Pipe Line Corp. say they have effectively transported oil for more than 70 years without a spill, while remaining a good corporate neighbor in the community. They argue the company should be able to pursue future interests that will benefit the business.

The proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance adds to the city’s zoning ordinance to prohibit new facilities or the enlargement of facilities used for storing petroleum, accessory piers or pumping and distributing oil. The ordinance would apply to two of the city’s zoning districts: the Shipyard District and the Shoreland Area Overlay District, which encompasses all areas 250 feet from coastal waters.

City Manager Jim Gailey said at a Monday, July 1 council meeting the language as stated in the ordinance would encompass more than just Portland Pipe Line Corp., it would apply to the Gulf Oil Ltd in the Shipyard District, as well as Sprague Energy, Irving Oil, Citgo and Global termimals on the waterfront.

“We’ve heard a lot of one terminal. This ordinance language brings in all the terminals South Portland has. That’s a big area. We’re not just talking about one business with this zoning language,” Gailey said.

There is also a question of whether the ordiance meets the city’s comprehensive plan, Gailey wrote in an email Tuesday, which allows existing marine and oil terminals to be maintained and improved.

Portland Pipe Line Corp. employee Jeff Leary, a South Portland resident, agreed with that interpretation and called the ordinance “overreaching,” because the nearly 4,000 residents who signed did not know they would be supporting anything more than just blocking the transportation of tar sands.

“I was approached to sign that petition, and I was only asked to stop Exxon Mobil from building smokestacks in Bug Light Park. That’s deceitful. I almost signed it myself, I wouldn’t want that,” Leary joked. “I think the people of South Portland will hopefully do their homework, see through this and do the right thing.”

However, Robert Sellin, a member of the Concerned Citizens of South Portland, noted the full text of the proposed ordinance was attached to every petition circulated in the city.

Sellin said after the council’s meeting he “was not worried” about the interpretation of proposed ordinance was too wide-ranging. He said members of the group have been in touch with businesses within the affected zoning maps to explain “they won’t be affected one bit.”

Sellin said the Shoreland Area Overlay District only extends 250 feet from the coast, and therefore any companies set farther inland would not be affected by that portion of the ordinance. He disagreed with Gailey’s assertion the change “is not a tar sands ordinance.”

“We’re not targeting one individual company, we’re looking at protecting the quality of life in South Portland,” Sellin said.

Regardless of the interpretations about the scope of the ordinance, councilors agreed the best path forward would be to continue letting voters speak for themselves on the issue after the necessary discussions. The council voted unanimously to accept the first reading of the ordinance and move forward to the two future meetings.

“This is American government at its best. Where the citizenry initiates legislation,” said Mayor Tom Blake.

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