Hearings set on South Portland oil pipeline restrictions

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors on Monday scheduled an Aug. 5 public hearing on an ordinance proposed to thwart the flow of Canadian oil – including, but not limited to, tar sands – into South Portland.

The proposed prohibition on loading oil into docked tankers and construction of vapor towers near Bug Light Park is the result of citizen-initiative petitions submitted June 17 at City Hall, with 3,779 signatures, including Mayor Tom Blake’s.

The zoning change for the waterfront, commercial and shipyard districts will also be considered by the Planning Board July 23.

With the options of enacting the ordinance after a second reading or drafting an ordinance of their own, Blake and other councilors were clear in their desire that voters will decide, probably on Nov. 5.

“We are looking at another five months of what I’m hoping and encouraging will be productive, educational conversations.” Blake said before the 7-0 council vote on the first reading.

Natalie West, who wrote the initiative for Concerned Citizens of South Portland, said there is no legal requirement for Planning Board review, an opinion countered by Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett’s reading of state law and a council desire to get Planning Board perspective.

Gailey on Monday said the proposed changes will affect more than the operations of Portland Pipe Line, the city company which would receive tar sands oil from Montreal if the flow of one of the 236-mile pipelines is reversed. Company officials have said there are no current plans to bring in the oil for international export, but there is interest in doing so.

Banning expansion at petroleum facilities in the districts would affect operations for almost half a dozen companies, Gailey said.

Councilor Al Livingston joined Mitchell Road resident (and Portland Pipe Line employee) Jeff Leary in criticizing the petition effort, saying he was told only it would block tar sands oil and the construction of vapor combustion towers needed to capture emissions from burning off additives in the oil.

Concerned Citizens co-Chairman Robert Sellin said anyone asked to sign the petition had the chance to read the full text before signing and urged councilors to enact the ordinance changes without calling for a referendum question.

But Councilor Jerry Jalbert summed up the council perspective: “This should be put to a straight up or down vote.”

City voters may also be asked to approve an increase in the annual stipend for Board of Education members after the Blue Ribbon Commission looking into compensation for elected city officials recommended a $500 increase to $1,500 in its final report.

The report was accepted and will be reviewed at a July 15 City Council workshop. Blake urged School Board members to review the report before the council workshop.

Created by councilors in March and led by consultant Mike Wing, the commission comprised of city residents David Canarie, Andy Charles, Brian Dearborn, Albert DiMillo Jr., Richard Rottkov, Carol Thorne and West found it best to keep council stipends at $3,000, with no extra given to the councilor serving a one-year term as mayor.

The commission supported eliminating taxpayer-funded health insurance for councilors, as will be done at the end of November, but advocated allowing School Board members and councilors the chance to buy into city health plans at their own expense.

Blake thanked the commission for its work as it helped resolve what had been “a relative thorn in the councilor’s side for a couple of years.”

Before councilors voted to eliminate the taxpayer-funded health-care benefits, DiMillo sued the city in Cumberland County Superior Court, saying the benefits violated the City Charter section on compensation for councilors.

In other business, following up on the June 24 workshop discussion, councilors approved offering about 1,500 square feet of city owned land for sale to 159 Cottage LLC for $4,500. The land, now part of the South Portland Public Library, will become parking for Otto Pizza.

Net proceeds from the sale of about $3,400 will be used to provide digital checkout services at the library, Library Director Kevin Davis said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.