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Tar sands question divides South Portland City Council candidates

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Tar sands question divides South Portland City Council candidates

SOUTH PORTLAND — Four candidates are competing for two at-large City Council seats in November.

They bring a depth and breadth of municipal experience to their campaigns.

Current Mayor Tom Blake, former City Councilor Maxine Beecher, Board of Education District 3 representative Rick Matthews and former Planning Board member Carol Thorne are seeking the three-year terms, with are elected city-wide and without party affiliation.

Blake, 62, a resident of 195 High St., is seeking his third term while completing his second, one-year term as mayor. He is married to Dee Dee Blake and has four children. Blake is a retired city firefighter who manages property he owns.

Beecher, 70, served three terms in District 4, which is now represented by Councilor Linda Cohen. She was prevented from running again last year because of city term limits. A resident of 1359 Highland Ave., she is married to Ed Beecher and has two grown sons. Beecher also served one term on the School Board 30 years ago.

Thorne, 66, of 96 Sandy Hill Road, is married to Philip Thorne. They have two grown children. She served on the Planning Board from 1996 to 2011, and recently was part of the commission established to study compensation for elected officials and city board members.

Matthews, of 17 Boothby Road, is a stay-at-home husband and volunteer for youth and senior citizens. He is in his second full term on the School Board and is married to Cheryl Matthews. They have three children.

Waterfront ordinance

A major issue that distinguishes the candidates from each other is the Waterfront Protection Ordinance referendum . The ordinance, which supporters call the best way to block the flow of Canadian tar sands oil through pipelines owned by the Portland Pipe Line Co., would prohibit expansion of storage tanks and petroleum-related infrastructure in the Shipyard District and shoreline areas of the Commercial District.

The ordinance is seen by Blake as a healthy path to future development. He said it fits well in the updated Comprehensive Plan adopted by the City Council about a year ago.

"I think it shows great vision," Blake said. "Tar sands will devalue our real estate properties. I almost see this as a favor to the petroleum industry, because in the future they will have to change their way of business."

Beecher, who led the Comprehensive Plan committee, said ordinance supporters selectively chose language from the plan to give the appearance of compatibility.

"I am against (the ordinance) because I think the writing of it does more than what they told people than when they asked them to sign (petitions)," Beecher said.

Thorne, who was a member of the Planning Board in 2009 when it approved the construction of vapor combustion units needed to burn off tar sands oil additives, said her opposition to the ordinance is based on its language.

"I just feel what is proposed is very poorly written, way too broad and the ordinance itself mentions nothing about oil sands (or) tar sands. I feel it should be defeated at the ballot box,” she said.

Matthews declined to express support or opposition for the ordinance.

"I think the city has been put in quite a predicament. I'm extremely sensitive to both sides. A massive dose of cooperation is needed here," he said.

Public Works bond

All candidates but Thorne said they support a $14 million bond to build a new facility for the Public Works, Transportation and Parks and Recreation departments on city-owned land off Highland Avenue.

Thorne said she is undecided, on financial grounds.

"I am not going to deny we need it, my concern is the cost to the taxpayers. I'm not comfortable with the information I have yet,” she said.

Asked about goals if elected, Thorne and Beecher each placed implementation of the updated Comprehensive Plan at the top of their lists.

For Beecher, it would be a labor of love after spending years crafting the plan with 22 volunteers and city officials.

“Never in my life have I worked with a committee that size that I really loved when I left it,” she said.

Thorne said improvements in the plan will make it easier to put into action.

"Now we have a terrific Comprehensive Plan to work from, with reorganized Chapter 27 zoning easier to read and understand. I want to see the city of South Portland grow and prosper within the infrastructure we have now."

Blake said continued work to minimize tax increases is his top goal.

"We came in at 1.2 percent (this year) when I asked for 1 percent. I think I am frugal with a dollar because it is not my dollar. I think I am fiscally conservative," he said.

Matthews said he would like to improve communications between councilors and School Board members, while broadening his own perspective.

"The City Council is a whole big picture of the city, you have to look at the whole pie," he said. "I want to help people understand any way I can. The more real you are, the better off you are as a person."

Election Day is Nov. 5; polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. District 1 voters cast ballots at the Boys & Girls Club, 169 Broadway; District 2 polling is at the American Legion Hall, 413 Broadway; District 3 and 4 residents vote at the Community Center, 21 Nelson Road, and District 5 residents vote at the Redbank Community Center on MacArthur Circle West.

Absentee ballots can be obtained online or at City Hall until 6:30 p.m. Oct. 31, and returned until 8 p.m. on Nov. 5.

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