2013-11-08 / Front Page

WPO recount is likely

Sean P. Milligan
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – The citizens of South Portland voted down the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance on Tuesday by a margin of 192 votes, according to the city clerk’s office.

The vote was 4,453 (51 percent) against the ordinance and 4,261 (49 percent) for it.

Protect South Portland’s campaign headquarters had a somber tone following the results of the vote, but all hope was not lost. The organization vows that the people of South Portland will closely monitor the city council regarding this issue.

“This started back when the city council gave a permit, and it was under everyone’s radar what the implications were of tar sands,” said Roberta Zuckerman, volunteer coordinator for Protect South Portland. “That’s changed. We’re aware of it, we’re educated, we’re aware of how the city government works with people getting permits … I think (the city council is) aware that we’re involved and nobody will be able to pursue this without the residents’ (consent).”

Save Our Working Waterfront, the organization that has led the campaign against the WPO, maintains that a vote against the ordinance was not a vote for reversing the Portland Montreal Pipe Line and bringing tar sands to the city’s port. The organization believes that the wording of the ordinance was too broad and left too much room for interpretation.

The organization also emphasizes that there are no current plans to bring tar sands to South Portland’s waterfront and there are no plans for any paramount changes for the city’s petroleum industry.

“If something were to happen with the pipeline, it’s not happening in the near future, if at all,” said Jamie Py, president and CEO of Maine Energy Marketers Association and chairman of the ballot question committee. “And certainly nothing is ever going to happen with the terminals because they’ve never been able to handle crude oil, they never will, they never have been, and they’re never going to.”

With such a close vote, a recount is inevitable, as proponents of the WPO looked into steps required moving toward a recount shortly after final results were announced.

Oil sands or tar sands, common terms for bituminous sand deposits, has become a highly debated issue within the past decade. These deposits are found primarily in central Canada, and many believe that the substance is the immediate solution to costly oil coming from the Middle East. There has been mixed opinions about whether oil sands are more corrosive to pipelines during the transportation process than crude oil.

The oil pipeline from Portland to Montreal dates back to World War II, but there is fear that the flow of the pipeline will be reversed, bringing oil sands to South Portland, a fear that Protect South Portland believes was voiced in the voting process.

“I think what it means is, the citizens of South Portland have spoken very loud and clear that we don’t want tar sands in South Portland,” said Cathy Chapman, spokesman for Protect South Portland. “I am hopeful in thinking the recount will go our way and we will prevail and we will absolutely know, right (then), we won’t have tar sands in South Portland.”

The members of Protect Our Working Waterfront and their supporters are aiming for common ground between the two sides. After a campaign season that saw dialogue and demonstrations surrounding the ordinance become confrontational, conversation will be key to mending the divided community.

“Listen, folks have a lot of strong opinions about this. From our perspective this was never about oil sands,” said Jim Merrill, communication director for Protect Our Working Waterfront. “The ordinance doesn’t talk about oil sands, the other side did talk about it, but the truth is it isn’t about that. It’s about an ordinance that went too far.”

Regardless of the intentions of Portland Pipe Line Corp., the company will have freedom to grow without the ordinance in place. A study commissioned by Maine Energy Marketers Association projected 5,600 jobs and $252 million would be lost over the next decade if the ordinance had passed. This was based on the petroleum industry in South Portland shutting down due to the open language of the ordinance.

With intentions of reversing the Portland Montreal Pipe Line unclear, members of Protect South Portland and their supporters will remain adamant in their fight against a possibly harmful material coming to their town.

“This is not the end,” Chapman said. “We’re not going to give up no matter what happens with the recount. We’re going to continue to fight to keep South Portland tar sands free.”

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