200-plus South Portland businesses join tar sands foes
SOUTH PORTLAND — More that 200 businesses have thrown their support behind a proposed ordinance that would prevent the flow of so-called tar sands oil into the city.
The announcement came Wednesday, Sept. 18, during a press conference by advocacy group Protect South Portland. Spokesman Barry Zuckerman, standing alongside about 15 supporters of the ordinance, delivered to City Councilor Patti Smith a list of 216 South Portland businesses, including DiPietro's Market, Joe's Boathouse, Scratch Baking and Young's Furniture Co.
"These businesses are adding support to the vast number of supporters we already have," he said. "We all recognize that Big Oil is not king."
Within minutes of the announcement, a New Hampshire consulting group representing the Ballot Question Committee – an entity formed by the Maine Energy Marketers Association to oppose the ordinance – issued opposing views from a contractor and a former mayor.
The Waterfront Protection Ordinance will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot as a citizen-initiated referendum question. The question was unanimously approved by the City Council in a mid-August meeting after nearly six hours of public comment and debate.
Smith, who was the lone councilor to support enacting the ordinance without a referendum, accepted the list of businesses from Zuckerman. The list is comprised mainly of retailers, restaurants and private practitioners. Notably absent are industrial businesses and those along the waterfront.
"I gladly accept and acknowledge these 216 local businesses for their committment and voice for a safe, healthy and environment-healthy community," Smith said. "I encourage others to endorse and support the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance this November."
Smith was among five speakers who took turns describing the potential impacts on property values, business and well-being if the referendum is defeated.
Deb Huston, a real estate agent, said property values would be negatively impacted by the infrastructure needed to receive and process tar sands oil.
"The city and residents of South Portland have worked hard to revitalize our neighborhoods," she said. "Transfer of tar sand oil through South Portland would effectively ruin the area."
Restaurateur Tom Howard, who hosted the press conference outside JP Thornton's Bar & Grille, said he was proud to join with the other businesses in support of the ordinance.
"South Portland has a shared vision of a healthy, prosperous and sustainable city," he said. "Our city's future lies in a diverse economy, including tourism and recreation. Both tourism and recreation rely on preserving the environment that maintains the scenic beauty, clean air and water of our surroundings. We cannot afford to jeopardize the very things that make South Portland so special."
In response, Jim Merrill, the New Hampshire Director for the Bernstein Shur Group, issued two news releases in opposition of the proposed ordinance.
First, Merrill released comments from Phoenix Welding President Don Johnson that were included in a letter this week to the city. Johnson contends the specter of the ordinance has had a costly effect on his Portland-based business and others.
“Three projects in South Portland amounting to $1.5 million in work for Phoenix Welding and our partners have already been shut down because of the constraints of the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance. These were projects that had received the green light and would be underway today were it not for the WPO.”
A separate release from Merrill included a written statement from former Mayor Chris Bowring, who vowed to vote no on the proposed ordinance.
"If passed, the WPO will senselessly devastate businesses that have been good neighbors and essential parts of our economy for decades, while costing the working families of South Portland dearly. It will cause jobs to be lost, vital tax revenues that support our police, firefighters and schools to vanish, and energy costs to increase," Bowring wrote.
Current Mayor Tom Blake has taken a vastly different stance. Earlier this year, Blake was the last of nearly 3,800 residents to sign a petition calling for the ordinance. He has pledged to vote yes.
The ordinance would amend Chapter 27 of the city code and prohibit either the loading of petroleum products into tankers, or expansion of petroleum storage tanks and distribution facilities, in the Ferry Village area and the city's shoreland commercial areas.
Ordinance foes have said the broad text of the ordinance will prevent petroleum-related businesses in the city from expanding to meet market or regulatory requirements.
Larry Wilson, Portland Pipe Line Co. president and chief executive, has said there is no plan to import the oil or build the 70-foot vapor combustion units approved by the Planning Board in 2009 for installation on a company pier near Bug Light. Wilson has also said that any consideration to bring in the oil would be fully vetted and keep the city's best interests at heart.