South Portland tar sands moratorium moves toward council vote
SOUTH PORTLAND — A revised 180-day moratorium on development proposals for importing "tar sands" oil will have its first City Council reading on Monday, Nov. 18.
Ordinance revisions governing municipal towing work, meanwhile, need more tweaking and study, councilors decided Wednesday during a four-hour workshop.
Councilors also signalled their preference for converting the former Roosevelt School into market-rate housing units, rather than the senior housing proposed by the South Portland Housing Authority.
The proposed moratorium, which would be incorporated into Chapter 27 of the city code, will also face a Dec. 3 Planning Board hearing before moving to a second council reading and vote on Dec. 16.
Affirmative votes from five city councilors will be needed to enact the proposed moratorium, which would be retroactive to Nov. 6.
The moratorium, revised primarily to include reference to "tar sands products" throughout, drew about an hour of public comment and a four-page letter from attorney Matt Manahan, who represents Portland Pipe Line Corp.
While the company has no current plans to reverse the flow of a 236-mile pipe line to Montreal to import diluted bitumen from the Canadian province of Alberta, Manahan objected to the moratorium on grounds it would usurp federal pipe line regulations.
Manahan also said moratorium wording that cites possible environmental and health consequences related to tar sands oil are inaccurate.
With Mayor Tom Blake absent, council comments indicated enough support to pass the moratorium, even if its intent remains disputed.
Councilor Linda Cohen, who first suggested a moratorium before the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance was defeated at the polls on Election Day, said her opposition to the WPO should never have been seen as support for importing tar sands oil.
She and Councilor Melissa Linscott said the moratorium will provide the opportunity for wider discussion by a committee about tar sands oil and the possible need for an ordinance governing its import.
“It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be done,” Linscott said of enacting the moratorium.
Councilor Jerry Jalbert, who last week reiterated his opposition to importing tar sands oil, also said he favors the moratorium.
But Jalbert's reluctance to support some revisions to Chapter 15 of the city code governing towing policies for companies doing municipal work helped keep the revisions from being scheduled for a first council reading Nov. 18.
Proposed by South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins, partly because of instances of overcharges that led to the suspension of two companies last spring, the changes would increase towing fees to $100 at accidents and $85 for other jobs, and storage fees to $30 per day.
The new regulations would also require companies doing city business to itemize equipment and file monthly receipts for city work.
Jalbert was joined by Linscott and Councilor Patti Smith in suggesting the receipts be submitted only when there are complaints. Smith, who presided over the workshop, suggested the changes can be discussed at an upcoming workshop.
A proposal from Portland developer Ethan Boxer-Macomber to convert the 85-year-old Roosevelt School into 19, two-bedroom housing units drew support from neighbors of the 317 Pine St. building, and from Councilors Michael Pock, Smith, Cohen, Jalbert and Linscott.
Boxer-Macomber offered $218,500 for what he would call the Meetinghouse Lofts. The South Portland Housing Authority had offered $525,000 for the three-story, 18,000-square-foot building last occupied by the Spurwink School.
Both plans call for building additions, but the smaller size of Macomber-Boxer's proposal and his vow to adhere to historic preservation guidelines in the conversion drew support.
Any conversion to housing at Roosevelt School would require Planning Board approval and a variance for increased population density in the zone.