2018-07-06 / Community

Park lease is renewed

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

Although embroiled in a lawsuit against Portland Pipe Line Corp., hinging on the relative danger of diluted bitumen, or “tar sands” oil, South Portland has been able to hook horns with the company on other matters.

At its June 19 meeting, the city council signed a oneyear extension on a lease agreement for land that, while belonging to PPL, is popularly thought to be part of Bug Light Park. The section of the park closest to the PPL pier has been leased for public use since 1996, first as a two-acre slice, then from 2011 as a five-acre parcel.

The city does not technically pay to use the land, instead forgiving PPL its property tax bill – currently $35,264 – on the lot’s assessed value. The city also carries its own liability insurance on the plot at an annual cost of $2,905.

In February 2015, PPL sued the city in federal court to overturn the Clear Skies Ordinance, adopted by the council in July 2014 to ban the company from ever importing tar sands into South Portland from Canada. When the Bug Light Park lease expired in December 2016, PPL switched from what had been a five-term to a six-month lease deal, while adding a provision that allows either party to exit the contract at any time with 90 day notice. Since, then, it has extended the lease three times, each time on a one-year increment.

“We have a lot of relationships on different levels and it is not uncommon for parties to be engaged in a legal dispute and still maintain their other relationships,” said Councilor Claude Morgan. “That is a mature and healthy approach.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. District Court trial on PPL’s objection to the tar sands ban wrapped up in Portland June 21. Post-trial written arguments from both sides are due by July 13. Justice John Woodcock Jr. will issue his ruling at some point after that. However, whichever way the decision goes, the case is expected to be protested by the losing side to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. That review could add as many as three years to the battle.

To date, South Portland has spent more than $1.6 million defending the ordinance.

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