2013-08-23 / Front Page

City will let voters have say

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – At the beginning of the South Portland City Council meeting Monday, Aug. 20, Mayor Tom Blake asked a question to the audience gathered for a public hearing to discuss the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance.

“Generally speaking, how many people would like to see this item go to a public vote?” Blake asked the crowd.

Nearly every arm in the Mahoney Middle School gymnasium shot up – both from those who later argued the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance would cripple South Portland’s working waterfront businesses, and from those who said it would stand as the city’s only protection against a dangerous substance they believe poses grave health risks.

At the end of the night, after 71 members of the audience said their piece to either support or condemn the proposed ordinance change, the council voted to do exactly as Blake had described.

The proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance will be put to voters Tuesday, Nov. 5 after the council voted 5-1 against enacting it Monday night. Councilor Patti Smith, who said she fully supports the ordinance “as written, 100 percent,” was the lone vote to immediately enact the ordinance. Councilor Michael Pock was absent.

The Waterfront Protection Ordinance is a proposed addition to Chapter 27, which covers zoning in the South Portland Code of Ordinances. It would describe a permitted use for oil tank farms and facilities only “for the unloading of petroleum products from ships docking in South Portland.”

The proposed ordinance would also add a new section to the ordinance, preventing the “enlargement or expansion” of certain existing facilities within the city’s Shipyard District and Shoreland Area.

Supporters of the ordinance say it is the most effective method to block Portland Pipe Line Corp. from bringing tar sands oil from Montreal to Maine, where they say it would be loaded onto tankers for transportation to international ports.

Detractors say the ordinance is too broad to accomplish its stated purpose and it will have the unintended consequence of crippling the city’s waterfront industry.

Both sides made their case in a public comment session that lasted nearly four hours, before the council made the decision to leave the proposal up to city voters.

Max Saffer-Meng, a 12-year-old South Portland resident, said it will be children his age that will suffer the consequences if the decision is made to bring tar sands oil to the city.

“I was born after most of you, and when you’re not around any more, our generation will be cleaning up the messes you make,” Saffer-Meng said.

Terry Morrison, a Democratic state legislator who represents part of South Portland in District 122, said he fully supports the proposed ordinance as drafted.

“The timing couldn’t be better to be forward-thinking and put safeguards in place,” Morrison said.

John Howard, a Loveitts Field Road resident, said he initially signed the petition to bring the Waterfront Protection Ordinance to voters because he believes tar sands oil is “one of the worst energy options imaginable.” However, after reading and researching the ordinance, Howard said he found it potentially damaging. 

“Shame on me. I didn’t read the proposed ordinance before I signed it. I have since read the ordinance. It is in conflict with the comprehensive plan; it is internally inconsistent and it is overbroad,” Howard said.

Nearly 4,000 South Portland residents signed petitions in June to bring the Waterfront Protection Ordinance to a citizens-initiated vote. The council had the option Monday to enact the ordinance, send an amended ordinance to voters along with the proposal, or reject immediate enactment, taking the decision out of the municipal government’s purview and transferring the decision to voters in November.

There is no proposal from Portland Pipe Line Corp. to transport tar sands oil in the Portland-Montreal Pipeline to Casco Bay, but CEO Larry Wilson previously said the company would be open to any options that would benefit the company. The pipeline currently transports traditional crude oil from the docks in South Portland to Montreal.

Although five of the six South Portland councilors voted against enacting the ordinance, their overall opinions concerning the proposed ordinance were somewhat varied. Each of the six councilors present spoke briefly Monday to establish their opinions about the Waterfront Protection Ordinance.

Smith and Blake were the most vocal in their support of the proposed ordinance among the present councilors.

“I look forward to standing shoulder-toshoulder with those who think it is the right way to go with our future,” Smith said.

Blake said he felt “enlightened” by the hours of discussion from both sides leading up to the council’s vote, and indicated he would join the campaign in future months to urge residents to vote “yes” on the proposal.

“I’m proud of this ordinance and I’m proud to defend it,” he said.

Councilor Alan Livingston, meanwhile, strongly opposed the Waterfront Protection Ordinance. He told the audience he would prefer a redrafting of the language to fix the perceived flaws, because the two sides’ respective goals are at a disconnect. That outcome is impossible because the city council has no power to change language approved by citizens through the petition process.

“I think it’s sad – the dilemma that we’ve caused the citizens of South Portland,” Livingston said.

Councilor Jerry Jalbert did not indicate strong feelings about the proposal, but he emphasized to the audience that November’s vote is not likely to end the debate.

Jalbert said he expects challenges to either outcome, potential lawsuits and possibly multiple versions of the ordinance before the issue is resolved.

“This is the first mile of the marathon,” Jalbert said. “We still have 25.2 to go.”

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Correction, Aug. 28, 2013: An earlier version of this story stated resident John Howard "changed his mind" concerning the issue, and could be read to convey Howard's opinion changed on tar sands as an energy source, rather than the Waterfront Protection Ordinance itself. As the updated story notes, Howard believes tar sands should be kept from the community, but the approach of the Waterfront Protection Ordinance is too broad. 


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