Working on the waterfront: After narrow defeat of WPO, South Portland seeks time on tar sands
SOUTH PORTLAND — It took City Councilors less than a day after Tuesday's defeat of the Waterfront Protection Ordinance to review a 180-day moratorium on loading "tar sands" oil into ships docked in the city.
The WPO, which would have amended Chapter 27 of the city code to prohibit expansion of petroleum-related infrastructure and loading tankers docked in the city, was narrowly rejected by voters on Election Day, 4,453 to 4,261.
The proposed moratorium, drafted by city Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett, would specifically ban "development proposals involving the loading of unrefined oil sands onto marine tank vessels docking in South Portland" for 180 days, with Wednesday, Nov. 6, as the effective date.
The moratorium would provide time for a committee to help draft a permanent ordinance governing or banning the import of tar sands oil.
The preliminary time-line for passage of the moratorium calls for discussion of revisions suggested by councilors at a Nov. 13 workshop at the Community Center, a first reading by the council Nov. 18, getting an advisory opinion from the Planning Board after a Dec. 3 public hearing, and a second council vote on Dec. 16.
Councilors suggested tweaks Wednesday after hearing about an hour of public comment in the 3 1/2-hour workshop.
Because the moratorium can be retroactive to when it was first placed on a council agenda, Daggett said it should not be considered an emergency measure. It could also be extended for another 180 days by councilors when it expires next spring.
Robert Sellin, a member of Protect South Portland who supported the WPO, on Thursday had a wary view of the council's plan.
"I speak only for myself," Sellin said. "The council needs to make it clear that its eventual goal is to develop and adopt an ordinance that will protect the community from tar sands, and protect and encourage our waterfront businesses."
On Tuesday, Portland Pipe Line President and CEO Larry Wilson said he welcomed a chance for a community discussion as part of a moratorium and solution for his business and residents.
"We are looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate," Wilson said.
On Thursday, PPLC attorney Jim Merrill said collaboration is an element missing from the proposed moratorium.
“Less than 24 hours after the voters spoke, we were disappointed to be presented with a rough first draft of a one-sided moratorium put together without the benefit of any balanced input or comment,” Merrill said in an email.
Daggett cautioned councilors not to express their opinions Wednesday because it might "pre-ordain the result" of a new ordinance needed to replace the moratorium.
She also warned that any "substantive changes" suggested by the Planning Board after the Dec. 3 hearing and accepted by councilors could reset the clock by requiring a new first reading.
But her advice didn't stop councilors from revealing their positions on the overriding purpose of the moratorium.
Mayor Tom Blake, an ardent supporter of the WPO, said allowing a committee to create a new ordinance that completely bans the flow of tar sands oil through pipe lines owned by the Portland Pipe Line Corp. will protect the city.
“I will not accept any ordinance that jeopardizes the health of our children," Blake said.
In an interview Tuesday, Blake said he was assured all councilors oppose tar sands oil coming into the city.
But on Wednesday, he was joined only by Councilors Patti Smith, Linda Cohen and Melissa Linscott; Councilors Jerry Jalbert, Al Livingston and Michael Pock expressed support for the time out a moratorium may provide, but not outright opposition to tar sands.
Cohen, Linscott, Pock, Livingston and Jalbert also publicly opposed the WPO.
“I am very disappointed leadership has taken us to this point. I am disappointed at trust that is not out there in the city,” Livingston said. “Why are we nit picking tonight?”
Sellin said a large committee will be needed to represent all interests, especially if representatives are included from each oil company in the city. He suggested small business owners, teachers, fishermen, parents and residents who live near Portland Pipe Line facilities also be included in the discussions.
Despite his misgivings about the draft proposal, Merrill said the company is open to the process.
"We remain committed to participating meaningfully in a discussion about the future of the working waterfront, and engaging in an appropriate process that allows all sides the benefit of expressing their concerns," he said.
Cohen noted the slim, 192-vote margin that defeated the ordinance requires reaching a broad-based community solution.
"I think we do more harm than good tonight if we don't get this thing started,” she said.