South Portland Planning Board backs extension of tar sands moratorium

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The Planning Board on Tuesday endorsed an 180-day extension of the moratorium on tar sands developments, which is set to expire May 5. 

The board approved the extension 4-0, with Rob Schreiber and Erick Giles absent.

The City Council sent the extension to the board after it approved a first reading March 17. The extension now goes back to the council on April 23 for a second and final reading.

The city has been under the tar sands moratorium retroactively since last fall. For the past few weeks a three-member draft ordinance committee has been researching and developing a proposed ordinance, with the goal to permanently prohibit tar sands from coming to the city.

Citing heavy volumes of material to research and discuss, Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser said members of the committee do not feel they can finish their work by the current deadline.

“My impression is that they’re not at a drafting stage, it’s more that they’re still collecting relevant information and getting closer to starting to put their thoughts together,” Haeuser said.

Six residents came forward during the public hearing in support of extending the moratorium, and assisted in explaining the progress of the draft ordinance committee to board members.

Bob Whyte, of Orchard Street, who has attended every draft ordinance committee meeting, felt an extension is valid given the requirement that all the committee’s discussions be public and require a quorum.

“It’s a difficult constraint to work under, but it has a very strong upside, and the upside is that the deliberations are public, are fully on the record, and are very transparent,” Whyte said.

An extension of the moratorium would give the committee until November to finish its work, although a recent email from committee facilitator Jeff Edelstein suggests that they expect to finalize an ordinance approach sometime in June.

The moratorium can be discontinued at any time the committee finishes its work and brings forward a proposal.

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