South Portland council to take final action on tar sands ban

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The Planning Board Tuesday recommended the City Council adopt ordinance changes to keep tar sands crude oil out of the city.

The board voted 6-1, with Linda Boudreau opposed, that zoning changes in the so-called “Clear Skies Ordinance” are “in basic harmony” with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

The majority also agreed with member William Laidley that the ordinance’s proposed prohibition on the export of “crude oil” from the city waterfront is a “new use, not an improvement or expansion of use.”

The CSO would prohibit “the bulk loading of crude oil onto marine vessels” in specific city zones and the construction of any buildings or equipment associated with that use. 

City councilors formed a special committee in January to devise a new approach to prohibit tar sands from the city, after a citizen-initiated ordinance was narrowly defeated in a referendum last November.

The referendum would have prevented Portland Pipe Line Corp. from reversing its pipeline to transport tar sands from Canada and load the product on ocean-going tankers in South Portland, which proponents fear would have serious environmental consequences. 

Portland Pipe Line has historically pumped crude oil to Canada from ocean-going tankers. It had an air emissions license to reverse the pipeline flow and export from the city, but relinquished the permit shortly before the November vote.

Company representatives have said there are no plans to reverse the flow, but oil industry representatives overwhelmingly oppose the proposed ordinance because they believe it limits business expansion and jeopardizes waterfront jobs. The city expects legal challenges from the industry if the ordinance receives final passage.

Around 90 people attended the Tuesday meeting at the South Portland High School Lecture Hall.

The City Council will take final action on the tar sands ban on Monday, July 21, at the South Portland Community Center Gymnasium.

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