Storm delays work by South Portland tar sands committee

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The three-member city committee charged with crafting an ordinance to prevent proposals for processing or shipping tar sands oil embarked Feb. 6 on what member Russell Pierce Jr. called “a land-use exercise.”

The committee was scheduled to meet again Thursday, to ask city staff about the details of the city’s petroleum industries, and to compile questions to be sent to outside sources. But that meeting was cancelled because of the weather.

Pierce, a litigation specialist with Portland-based Norman, Hanson & DeTroy, was joined in the initial meeting on Feb. 6 by Michael Conathan and David Critchfield, and led by facilitator Jeff Edelstein for 2 1/2 hours in City Council Chambers.

The committee even found time to accept about 25 minutes of public comment, but cautioned that will not always be possible. Outside council chambers, it will be tight lipped.

“My opinion is you take a ‘no comment’ approach,” Edelstein said.

The committee set out a long list of things it needs to know before it can draft an ordinance City Councilors hope will thread a needle between superseding state and federal laws and regulations governing pipe lines to Montreal owned by Portland Pipe Line Corp., as well as the infrastructure used by other petroleum companies on the city waterfront.

Pierce doubted their work would achieve that goal.

“Whatever we do here will probably be challenged,” he said.

The threat of court action by the Washington, D.C. -based American Petroleum Institute has loomed since December. The API has not carried out a promised court challenge of the current 180-day moratorium on tar sands development proposals enacted by councilors after the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance was narrowly defeated by voters last November.

The first and toughest order of business may be learning precise locations of Portland Pipe Line infrastructure, which could legitimately be shielded for security reasons.

“In conversations I’ve had, virtually nobody seems to know where the pipeline actually runs, and the only people who know are the Coast Guard and the Fire Department,” Conathan said.

Conathan served on the staff of former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, working on marine and Coast Guard issues, and said he could draw on a long list of contacts. Critchfield, a biologist who founded Emsource, which buys corporate environmental liabilities and oversees cleanups, can also draw from experience and connections.

City Manager Jim Gailey provided a list of resourcers to the committee, including contacts at the Coast Guard, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Spill Corporation, Maine Energy Marketers Association, Falmouth resident William Hastings (who worked for Marathon Oil), and representatives from the petroleum companies in the city.

Gailey said Wednesday he is looking to add to the list, but Conathan and Critchfield noted advice and insight from some of the best consultants with industry knowledge has a price.

“Can we get the smartest, most objective pro to come here cheap,?” Critchfield asked.

The committee faces a May 5 deadline – the moratorium expiration date – and any new ordinance requires a City Council public hearing, Planning Board public hearing and recommendation, and two council votes before it can be enacted.

Councilors have the option of extending the moratorium.

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

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.