South Portland council postpones hearing on tar sands ban

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The errant comma is gone, but City Council action expected Monday on a proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance was delayed for two weeks.

By 4-0 votes, with Councilors Al Livingston, Jerry Jalbert and Melissa Linscott absent, the council amended the ordinance to remove the inadvertent comma, then recessed a public hearing to Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. at Mahoney Middle School.

“So we are voting to remove a comma?” Councilor Michael Pock asked before the council corrected the text that requires a Planning Board opinion about land use provisions and compatibility with the Comprehensive Plan.

The Planning Board will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13, at City Hall. On July 23, it declined to give an opinion because members received a copy with a comma that was not in the original text submitted to City Clerk Sue Mooney in June. 

Councilors could enact the ordinance at the Aug. 19 meeting. But they have also expressed a unanimous desire to have the question settled at the polls.

The vote to recess the public hearing came after 70 minutes of public comment on the ordinance that would limit expansion of infrastructure used for petroleum loading and processing in the Shipyard District and Shoreland Areas of the Commercial District.

More specifically, the ordinance would ban loading oil tankers in South Portland with Canadian “tar sands” oil imported from Montreal through 236 miles of pipelines owned by Portland Pipe Line Corp.

Industry representatives, including Portland Pipe Line Corporate Financial Officer David Cyr and Sprague Energy Vice President Burt Russell, said the breadth of the ordinance will hamper, if not ruin, petroleum industry operations in the city.

Looking to leverage the recent designation of the city as “business friendly” by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, Cyr said the economic future of the city is in the balance.

“The city is at a crossroad, and the crossroad is whether or not the city will continue on its track of a legacy of attracting business and creating jobs,” Cyr said.

Russell said his company now has no involvement with tar sands oil. And he said restricting expansion in the shoreland areas would have blocked prior company initiatives to distribute bio-diesel fuel, and will hamper future environmental and economic improvements.

“From our perspective, it is unfriendly to our business,” he said.

To counter the idea of potential harm to local businesses, Goudy Street residents James Nolan and Marguerite Rubino distributed copies of Portland Pipe Line annual reports showing eight of 10 company board members are from Canada and a ninth is from Houston. Company President Larry Wilson is the only director who lives in Maine.

“The fact we have directors that are out of the region is not surprising,” Cyr said, tracing company ownership to Montreal Pipeline Ltd., a joint operation owned by Shell Oil, Imperial Oil and Sun Corp. He added people would find the same type of board composition with any large, publicly traded company.

Robert Sellin, co-chairman of Concerned Citizens of South Portland, the group that gathered nearly 3,800 signatures for the ordinance petition, said the company chain of ownership shows it does not have local interest at heart.

“This ordinance is providing the tools for you and our Planning Board to help control our destiny, our future as a community,” Sellin said. “The opposition has a financial interest in bringing tar sands into our town. There is no benefit for us.”

Clements Street resident Debra Lumbert agreed, saying if Canadians wanted to export the oil, there is no reason for people in South Portland to assume the risk of a spill or other contamination.

“How do we benefit from this coming into our country?” she asked.

Sellin said more than 90 percent of people his group has met oppose importing tar sands oil.

But one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed ordinance on Monday was former Planning Board member Carol Thorne.

“I feel word has to go out now to say ‘no’ on this ordinance,” Thorne said. “This waterfront is the meat and the heart of the city of South Portland, and there is absolutely nothing in this ordinance that talks about tar sands. It talks about petroleum, but there are lots of types of petroleum.”

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

Sidebar Elements


School Board stipends won’t rise

SOUTH PORTLAND — Acknowledging School Board opposition and only tepid support from a panel that examined compensation for elected officials, city councilors Monday unanimously decided not to ask voters to approve increasing stipends for School Board members.

The proposed increase from $1,000 to $1,500 annually required voter approval as a change to the City Charter. After reviewing the report from the commission on compensation, School Board members last month said it would be improper to seek a stipend increase in the face of budget and program cuts.

The commission voted 5-2 in favor of recommending the stipend increase, the only increase it supported after a three-month study.

Councilors on July 23 suggested a charter change to make the increase an option, but the idea fell flat Monday night

“This motion before us is something we dreamed up in a 15-minute workshop two weeks ago,” Mayor Tom Blake said.

Blake and Councilors Patti Smith, Michael Pock and Linda Cohen agreed the commission should have had some more direction, even as the council tried to keep politics from its work.

Cohen continues to believe there is a disparity between the School Board stipend and annual $3,000 Council stipend, but did not want to press the point.

“(The School Board) doesn’t want this and they feel it sends out a really bad message at this time,” she said.

In other business, the council, with Councilors Al Livingston, Jerry Jalbert and Melissa Linscott absent, unanimously approved extending a lease at 24 Mosher St. with Mad Horse Theatre Company through June 30, 2019.

Mad Horse will pay $900 a month rent for the first two years and $1,000 a month for the last three years, while also spending $3,000 annually on building maintenance and upkeep.

The company produces shows in what was the Hutchins School, now a city-owned building in Ferry Village. The lease agreement now allows the space to be used by for-profit companies.

— David Harry

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.