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South Portland council postpones hearing on tar sands ban

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South Portland council postpones hearing on tar sands ban

SOUTH PORTLAND — The errant comma is gone, but City Council action expected Monday on a proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance was delayed for two weeks.

By 4-0 votes, with Councilors Al Livingston, Jerry Jalbert and Melissa Linscott absent, the council amended the ordinance to remove the inadvertent comma, then recessed a public hearing to Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. at Mahoney Middle School.

“So we are voting to remove a comma?” Councilor Michael Pock asked before the council corrected the text that requires a Planning Board opinion about land use provisions and compatibility with the Comprehensive Plan.

The Planning Board will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13, at City Hall. On July 23, it declined to give an opinion because members received a copy with a comma that was not in the original text submitted to City Clerk Sue Mooney in June. 

Councilors could enact the ordinance at the Aug. 19 meeting. But they have also expressed a unanimous desire to have the question settled at the polls.

The vote to recess the public hearing came after 70 minutes of public comment on the ordinance that would limit expansion of infrastructure used for petroleum loading and processing in the Shipyard District and Shoreland Areas of the Commercial District.

More specifically, the ordinance would ban loading oil tankers in South Portland with Canadian "tar sands" oil imported from Montreal through 236 miles of pipelines owned by Portland Pipe Line Corp.

Industry representatives, including Portland Pipe Line Corporate Financial Officer David Cyr and Sprague Energy Vice President Burt Russell, said the breadth of the ordinance will hamper, if not ruin, petroleum industry operations in the city.

Looking to leverage the recent designation of the city as "business friendly" by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, Cyr said the economic future of the city is in the balance.

“The city is at a crossroad, and the crossroad is whether or not the city will continue on its track of a legacy of attracting business and creating jobs,” Cyr said.

Russell said his company now has no involvement with tar sands oil. And he said restricting expansion in the shoreland areas would have blocked prior company initiatives to distribute bio-diesel fuel, and will hamper future environmental and economic improvements.

“From our perspective, it is unfriendly to our business,” he said.

To counter the idea of potential harm to local businesses, Goudy Street residents James Nolan and Marguerite Rubino distributed copies of Portland Pipe Line annual reports showing eight of 10 company board members are from Canada and a ninth is from Houston. Company President Larry Wilson is the only director who lives in Maine.

"The fact we have directors that are out of the region is not surprising," Cyr said, tracing company ownership to Montreal Pipeline Ltd., a joint operation owned by Shell Oil, Imperial Oil and Sun Corp. He added people would find the same type of board composition with any large, publicly traded company.

Robert Sellin, co-chairman of Concerned Citizens of South Portland, the group that gathered nearly 3,800 signatures for the ordinance petition, said the company chain of ownership shows it does not have local interest at heart.

"This ordinance is providing the tools for you and our Planning Board to help control our destiny, our future as a community,” Sellin said. “The opposition has a financial interest in bringing tar sands into our town. There is no benefit for us.”

Clements Street resident Debra Lumbert agreed, saying if Canadians wanted to export the oil, there is no reason for people in South Portland to assume the risk of a spill or other contamination.

“How do we benefit from this coming into our country?" she asked.

Sellin said more than 90 percent of people his group has met oppose importing tar sands oil.

But one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed ordinance on Monday was former Planning Board member Carol Thorne.

“I feel word has to go out now to say 'no' on this ordinance,” Thorne said. “This waterfront is the meat and the heart of the city of South Portland, and there is absolutely nothing in this ordinance that talks about tar sands. It talks about petroleum, but there are lots of types of petroleum.”

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