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South Portland tar sands committee chosen as activists warn of hazards

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South Portland tar sands committee chosen as activists warn of hazards

SOUTH PORTLAND — The ad hoc committee that will draft an ordinance banning the development of diluted bitumen "tar sands" oil processing or export facilities is expected to be at work by Thursday, Feb. 6.

City councilors on Wednesday selected city residents Michael Conathan and David Critchfield, along with Portland attorney Russell Pierce Jr. from 12 committee applicants.

Conathan served on the staff of former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, specializing in marine resources and United States Coast Guard issues. He is not an attorney, but said last week he expects his policy analysis expertise will help find a compromise between business interests and sustainability.

“I see myself more as a voice who can help with coming to language that makes sense,” he said.

Critchfield serves on the city Conservation Commission and co-founded Emsource, a Portland company that acquires corporate environmental liabilities and oversees remediation work.

“I am a very proud biologist,” Critchfield said last week. “I intend to bring objectivity, transparency and hard work. It is complex and emotional, and important to get our facts straight."

Pierce practices civil litigation with Norman, Hanson and DeTroy.

The council also approved Waterboro-based Edelstein Associates as committee facilitator. According to his website, Jeff Edelstein has led committees and working groups on storm water and land use issues in Maine and throughout the country.

Edelstein will charge $200 per hour and $50 per hour for an assistant to take notes and prepare meeting summaries. He was selected from a field of five applicants and scored highest in evaluations made by City Manager Jim Gailey, Assistant City Manager Jon Jennings and Finance Director Greg L'Heureux.

The committee and Edelstein will meet first with councilors, who have said they oppose tar sands oil in the city. Any ordinance to ban the Canadian oil must withstand superseding federal and state regulations governing 236 miles of pipelines to Montreal owned by the Portland Pipe Line Corp as well as rail shipments of the oil.

Portland Pipe Line officials have said there is no present plan to import the tar sands oil, and relinquished an emissions permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for needed vapor combustion units to treat the oil last fall.

But on Thursday, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report saying the "oil industry plans could cause a dramatic increase in the use of tar sands–derived gasoline in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states."

The report estimates refined tar sands oil could supply as much as 18 percent of the gasoline and heating oil used in the northeast by 2020, with refineries stretching from the Gulf Coast to eastern Canada processing the oil.

The potential risks of tar sands oil were discussed Monday during a visit to Bug Light Park by University of New Hampshire undergraduate Kaity Thomson and activist and blogger Brett Chamberlin.

The pair spent last week travelling from North Troy, Vt., to South Portland along  pipe line route. Working in a fellowship with the National Wildlife Federation, Thomson studied some of the ecosystems in the path of the pipe line. Her preliminary work established 80 streams and rivers at risk.

"You could see it in an open field, you knew it was there," she said.

Chamberlin  spent the week visiting residents and business owners, and was most stunned that pipelines pass through the White Mountain National Forest. He said he met people who were unaware tar sands oil could flow from Montreal, and concluded there was little the towns could do.

"South Portland poses the best chance to stop it," he said.

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