2013-08-09 / Community

Tar sands debate rages on in South Portland

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Officially, there was little movement of the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance at the South Portland City Council’s meeting Monday, August 5.

The council was scheduled to hold a second reading and public hearing on the controversial proposed ordinance. However a South Portland Planning Board workshop to discuss the potential ordinance was extended to Tuesday, Aug. 13.

Without a recommendation from the planning board, the council’s public hearing also needed to be pushed back. The council will consider a second reading of the proposed ordinance and hold the public forum Monday, Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. at Mahoney Middle School.

The confusing details surrounding the municipal review process all circled back to one simple fact Monday night: the council would make no decisions nor would it move forward with the process. Mayor Tom Blake told the audience of approximately 60 people as much Monday at the outset of the council’s meeting, around 7 p.m.

After about 90 minutes of citizen discussion, in which residents of South Portland and the surrounding area passionately stated their respective positions, Blake spoke again to the audience.

“There was some enthusiasm for no public hearing,” he said.

Volunteers gathered more than 3,000 signatures in June from supporters to schedule a November vote that would change the city’s zoning ordinance to prevent tar sands oil from coming through the Portland-Montreal Pipeline. However, representatives from oil companies working on the waterfront – including, but not limited to, the Portland Pipe Line Corp. – say the wording of the ordinance could cripple and ultimately destroy their businesses.

Dave Cyr, the chief financial officer of Portland Pipe Line Corp. and a Cape Elizabeth resident, commended the city for its recent designation from the state as a businessfriendly community. However, he said that legacy could drastically change.

“The city is at a crossroads,” Cyr said. If the proposed ordinance is defeated, he argued, South Portland “will continue its legacy of creating jobs, promoting jobs and generating the type of tax revenues that enables the city to provide the levels of services it does.”

Eve Raimon is an Angell Avenue resident and member of the Concerned Citizens of South Portland, the group that drafted the ordinance.

“South Portland will not be a business-friendly or pleasure-friendly city if its residents have to suffer through dangerous pollution every day. That is a reality I beg you to consider seriously,” Raimon told the council.

Representatives and attorneys from businesses such as Sprague Energy and Irving Oil argued the ordinance, as written, would prevent their employees from loading and unloading any petroleum-based products – not just tar sands oil, but home heating oil and gasoline as well – from their locations on the South Portland waterfront.

Burt Russell, vice president of operations at Sprague Energy, compared the restrictions of the proposed ordinance to “telling RadioShack they can’t change any of their products after today” or “telling Hannaford they can use the front door but not the loading dock.”

Carol Thorne, a former member of the South Portland Planning Board who grew up in Abilene, Texas, agreed.

“The language that is being used in this particular ordinance will definitely, I’m positive, will wipe out that waterfront.”

However, Rob Sellin, the co-chairman of the Concerned Citizens of South Portland, said the ordinance will bring about only small changes to prevent tar sands oil transportation, changes he said are consistent with staff’s vision for the city. The one inconsistency with the comprehensive plan, Sellin said, is the proposed ordinance would stop the open space near Bug Light Park from becoming a tank farm.

“If five or more of you are opposed to tar sands oil coming through our community and you stand with us, go ahead and adopt this initiative (on Aug. 19) so we can work together to shape our community,” Sellin urged the council.

The council voted unanimously to delete an errant comma from the proposed ordinance, meaning the planning board and council will review the exact same document that is set to go before voters in November.

After the council accepts a recommendation from the planning board, it has the option at its Aug. 19 meeting to send a revised ordinance change to a vote, send the proposed ordinance unchanged, or enact the ordinance as is.

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