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Technicality forces South Portland Planning Board to defer opinion on anti-tar sands measure

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Technicality forces South Portland Planning Board to defer opinion on anti-tar sands measure

SOUTH PORTLAND — For about four hours Tuesday night, the Planning Board heard opposing views on a proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance that would prevent the flow of Canadian tar sands oil into the city.

Left undone, however, was a recommendation on the ordinance sought by city councilors before they vote on the proposal early next month.

The board's opinion will be delayed until Aug. 13 because of a technicality: A comma inserted into the ordinance copy provided to board members was not in the original ordinance submitted to City Clerk Sue Mooney.

The additional comma caught the eye of lawyer Jim Katsiaficas, who represents Irving Oil Corp.

Originally, a phrase defining banned expansion of petroleum-related facilities contained the words "other facility for loading tanker."

The Planning Board copy had a comma between "facility" and "for."

Katsiaficas said the copy in front of the Planning Board had "fewer negative implications" for oil companies and other businesses because of the inserted comma. He was also one of nine speakers who said the ordinance was too broad, inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan, and would hamper, if not end, his client's operations in the city.

The hearing also marked the emergence of a committee formed by the Maine Energy Marketers Association to oppose the ordinance referendum, which is expected to be on the Nov. 5 city ballot unless the City Council makes the unlikely decision to enact the proposal without a voter referendum.

MEMA President Jamie Py said the committee seeks to protect businesses and jobs cited in the Comprehensive Plan as critical for economic growth in the city.

He and Katsiaficas said proposed bans on expanding facilities, loading oil from any source except ships at dock, and building on piers in the shipyard and shoreland areas of commercial districts will have consequences that extend well beyond the importation of tar sands oil.

Natalie West, who wrote the ordinance for a group called Concerned Citizens of South Portland, said the proposal makes it clear that existing uses are unaffected.

“Why not just say 'no tar sands oil?',” board Chairwoman Molly Butler Bailey asked.

West replied that a draft with a narrowed scope was reviewed by lawyers who felt it was less likely to withstand legal challenges.

Lawsuits attempting to overturn the ordinance would have to be defended by the city, and amending the ordinance would require another referendum vote, city Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett said.

Nathan Stevens, environmental compliance officer for Gulf Oil Corp., said the ordinance would stop his company from putting petroleum-based additives into gasoline at its city facility because the additives would not be unloaded from a ship.

He and Sprague Energy Vice President Burt Russell said proposed prohibitions on expansion would prevent them from making facilities safer and economically competitive, a point disputed by Robert Sellin, co-chairman of Concerned Citizens of South Portland.

“There is nothing in this ordinance that hurts any current business," Sellin insisted. "A change of function is another matter.”

The "change of function" is the importation of oil from fields in Alberta, Canada, through the 236-mile Portland Pipe Line course to Montreal.

Portland Pipe Line Co. President Larry Wilson reiterated there is no plan in place to import the oil, but said the company would consider the option. He said doing so would not automatically require the company to build the type of 70-foot vapor combustion unit approved by the Planning Board in 2009 that tar sands opponents are hoping to ban.

The prospect of the towers standing between Bug and Spring Point Ledge lights is a focal point for Concerned Citizens members, and West used a rendering of the 2009 plans in her presentation. But Wilson said the type of vapor control unit needed depends on the grade of oil imported.

"We just don't have anything on the plate that would utilize the 'smokestacks,' if you will,” he said.

Wilson also criticized tactics employed by the ordinance petition drive.

“I've seen children thrust in our face like we are doing harm to children," he said, calling ordinance supporters "extremists."

Wilson said the the industry and his company put safety first.

"The difference between us and the extremists is we do something about it everyday," he said.

Many of the 16 speakers who supported the ordinance praised Portland Pipe Line for its safety record. One of them, Bob Klotz, also objected to Wilson's assertion the petition signers were "duped."

"They have not been duped by anyone, and to suggest so is incredibly offensive,” he said. "We cannot allow things like tar sands to ever come out of the ground, much less (in) South Portland.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.