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South Portland panel suggests tar sands prohibition

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South Portland panel suggests tar sands prohibition

SOUTH PORTLAND — A committee appointed by the City Council is recommending prohibiting the flow of tar sands oil and restricting development related to the import and export of tar sands.

Jeff Edelstein, facilitator of the special Draft Ordinance Committee, in a written statement on Wednesday said the panel's draft recommendation is that South Portland "prohibit within the city the loading of crude oil onto marine vessels."

He also said the committee is recommending South Portland "prohibit construction and operation of related structures and equipment that would create new sources of air pollution, obstruct ocean views, and impede the City’s land use and planning goals."

The three-member panel was scheduled to release its complete draft recommendations on the city website on Friday, May 30. The group will hold a public forum on the recommendations Thursday, June 5, at 6 p.m. in City Hall. The public will also have until 5 p.m. June 13 to respond in writing to the recommendations.

At that point the committee will reconvene to edit its findings. It plans to have a finalized ordinance by June 20, and be prepared for a workshop with the City Council on June 25.

The committee, made up of Michael Conathan, staffer for former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snow; David Critchfield, founder of an environmental liability acquisition company, and Portland attorney Russell Pierce, has spent more than 51 hours since February deciding how to prevent potential plans for importing tar sands into the city from Canada via a pipeline owned by Portland Pipe Line Corp.

Any ordinance that prevents the loading and unloading of tar sands must walk the fine line of remaining within the city's jurisdiction, without stepping on the toes of pre-existing state and federal regulations. 

The group has studied legal and municipal documents, and received opinions from city department heads, environmental groups and representatives of the oil industry. 

"The committee has done an excellent job," Edelstein said in an interview Wednesday.

The city formed the committee to devise a new approach to limiting tar sands after a citizen-initiated ordinance that would have prevented the unrefined oil from coming into the city was narrowly defeated in a referendum last November.

Portland Pipe Line has repeatedly insisted there are no plans to reverse the pipeline flow, although last year it had an air emissions license to do so. The company relinquished the permit shortly before the November vote.

For more than 70 years, the pipeline has pumped crude oil to Montreal. In early March, the Canadian government approved a pipeline expansion and reversal from Alberta to Montreal.

Opponents of allowing tar sands into the city fear environmental consequences of storing and transporting the unrefined oil, particularly because of risks of air pollution and the possibility of a leak in the pipeline.

The city placed a hold on proposals involving the loading of tar sands retroactive to last October, and the council recently extended the moratorium until Nov. 1, or whenever the committee and council have finalized a revised ordinance.

City officials have said they expect legal challenges from the oil industry to accompany a new ordinance, and the American Petroleum Institute threatened as much last December when the committee was appointed.

On Thursday, a regional oil industry representative had a measured response.

"We will be taking a close look at the proposal coming from the Draft Ordinance Committee to assess its impact on existing operations along the waterfront, as well our ability to bring developing energy resources to Maine consumers," John Quinn, executive director of the Boston-based New England Petroleum Council, said in a prepared statement. 

At their meeting on Tuesday, committee members emphasized that the public will have more opportunities after June 5 to discuss the ordinance changes.

"This is not anyone's last whack at things," Critchfield said.

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or scarignan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.