Columnist John Balentine last week credited Protect South Portland with trying to decimate the local oil industry (Here’s Something: “The real threat is ‘Big Environment’”). In fact, the Portland Pipeline was developed during World War II because the Germans threatened access to oil refineries in Montreal. It served its purpose then, and continued to thrive for several decades.
But long before Protect South Portland the demand for oil shipments via the pipeline had been in significant decline. One of its lines had already been idled. The pipeline had considered that reversing the direction of flow in order to transship tar sands oil might possibly give it justification for continued existence. While they did pursue permitting that would allow this, they let those permits lapse without action. During debate over the ordinance, they themselves repeatedly asserted they had no present intentions to act. The ordinance was enacted, the demand for the pipeline’s services has continued to dwindle, and there is no causative relation of one fact to the other.
The simple truth is that economies change, and so must communities. South Portland is no longer the gritty industrial city of WWII shipbuilding and oil depots. We have developed a beautiful campus at Southern Maine Community College. People who have invested in housing, including the Portland and Cape Elizabeth sides of the harbor, don’t want to breathe in carcinogenic fumes being burned off from oil lading. And Balentine might Google “Kalamazoo River” if he thinks the risk of spills is merely an appeal to emotion.