2013-08-16 / Front Page

Ordinance is in city’s hands

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – The South Portland Planning Board has ruled the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance is inconsistent with the city’s 2012 comprehensive plan.

The Waterfront Protection Ordinance, a proposed addition to the city’s zoning ordinance, was drafted by Concerned Citizens of South Portland, a group of residents that want to prevent to Portland Pipe Corp. from transporting tar sands oil from Montreal to Casco Bay. While a majority of the planning board agreed with the vision behind the ordinance, they voted it was inconsistent with the comprehensive plan because of the possible unintended consequences the Waterfront Protection Ordinance may present.

The planning board voted 4-2 that the ordinance was inconsistent at its meeting Tuesday, Aug. 13, with Susan Hasson and Caroline Hendry opposed and William Laidley absent.

“I don’t see how we’re going to be able to remotely enforce what this Waterfront Protection Ordinance is attempting to do,” said planning board member Fred Hagan. “It’s a great idea, I just don’t think it’s worded properly. I’m sorry.”

The planning board’s recommendation will be considered by the city council at a public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19 at Mahoney Middle School. The council has the option to send the Waterfront Protection Ordinance to voters as is this fall, send an amended ordinance to voters, or enact the ordinance itself.

Rob Sellin, co-chairman of Concerned Citizens of South Portland, said he was disappointed with the planning board’s decision, but the vote will not hamper the group’s progress going forward.

“We’re going to do what we can to keep tar sands out of town. I’m confident we’re going to move ahead. The people are with us on this,” Sellin said.

More than 3,000 residents signed a petition in June to bring a citizens’ initiative to voters to prevent the arrival of tar sands oil, or diluted bitumen. Environmental advocates say the substance would do local harm because of the dangerous chemicals needed to dilute the oil, as well as the increased threat of spills that are more difficult to clean up than conventional crude oil.

The ordinance would achieve that goal by specifically allowing waterfront oil companies to unload – but not load – petroleum products from ships docking in South Portland. However, many representatives from businesses on the city’s working waterfront say the ordinance will cripple industry in that area.

“This ordinance will cost me my business. There is no question in my mind about that. It will also put my customers out of business,” said Mark Usinger, owner of A.L. Griffin Inc., a company that provides goods to commercial tankers.

David Lourie, an attorney from Cape Elizabeth who drafted the language in the Waterfront Protection Ordinance, said the city is unable to legally enact an ordinance that specifically prevents the shipment of tar sands oil because the federal government governs all pipeline safety regulations under the Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Act of 1979.

Lourie argued if the ordinance were to pass, city staff could consider the intent of preventing tar sands oil transportation when applications and permits were sought in the future relating to waterfront land use.

“I hope the staff would give this a reasonable interpretation if it’s adopted. People who administer these ordinances can either make them work or break them,” Lourie said.

However, attorney Matt Manahan of Portland firm Pierce Atwood LLP, who represents Portland Pipe Line Corp., among others, argued there is no way to look beyond the language in the proposed ordinance.

“There is a clear inconsistency and there’s no way around that – to say we hope staff interprets differently than what the words say is to ignore the words,” Manahan said.

Although many planning board members supported the vision of Concerned Citizens of South Portland, their interpretation of the ordinance aligned with Manahan’s.

“That’s not the role of planning board – to turn over their duties to staff. That’s a very dangerous approach I think,” said planning board member Erick Giles.

Tuesday’s public hearing, continued from an earlier meeting in July, lasted more than four hours. Many in the audience of roughly 65 members chose to speak to the planning board to support their ideological side of the issue, despite the relatively limited role of the board in the process.

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