By Duke Harrington
KeepMECurrent.com news story
SOUTH PORTLAND â South Portland Mayor Tom Blake said Wednesday he will sign a petition that seeks to block so-called tar sands oil from city ports.
Last week, the group Concerned Citizens for South Portland announced the launch of a petition drive to force a “Waterfront Protection Ordinance” before the City Council. If adopted, it would limit the Portland Pipe Line terminal to its current use of unloading, storing and pumping petroleum products north to Canada, and ban any enlargement, expansion or construction of its equipment anywhere in the shoreland area or in the city’s shipyard and commercial districts. New facilities would be required to reverse the flow of the pipeline and import diluted bitumen, or “tar sands,” from Montreal.
Blake said that in a demonstration scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Monday, June 17, outside City Hall, he and his wife Edrie will be the last two to sign the petition, which he said already has “more than 1,000 signatures.”
That’s more than the minimum 939 names the petitioners needed to collect by June 17 in order to force council action. Blake said he expects Concerned Citizens for South Portland to have than 1,200 signatures in hand by Monday’s demonstration, immediately after which they will be presented to the city clerk for validation.
Assuming at least 939 signatures are found to be from South Portland’s 18,783 registered voters â the City Charter requires 5 percent of “qualified electors” to petition an ordinance â the City Council will have 60 days in which to take action. It can vote to adopt the submitted ordinance, adopt it with amendments, or deny it. The latter two options would send the ordinance to a referendum vote sometime between 30 days and 15 months from the council decision, but most likely at the November general election.
Blake said he intends to sign the petition as a resident of South Portland, not as its mayor.
“I’ve studied this issue for a couple of years now and I firmly believe that the manufacture, transportation and use of tar sands is not only bad for the globe but most definitely bad for South Portland,” said Blake. “If we allow this, I feel we are jeopardize the health and safety of our citizens.”
There has been some question about whether the proposed ordinance will stand legal scrutiny, given that it essentially stagnates a single business. However, Blake said its goals are consistent with South Portland’s comprehensive plan, the City Council’s sustainability resolve, the 2007 Mayoral Climate Compact, and three different neighborhood plans in the city.
“I think the group behind this is pretty well organized and from my perspective they’ve done significant research,” said Blake. “They seem to be on pretty firm footing that this ordinance is appropriate and legal and that it will stand up in court.”
On Tuesday, City Manager Jim Gailey declined to comment on the legality of the proposal.
“Staff has taken a neutral position at this point,” he said. “We are allowing the process to play and holding all action until such time as the petition is submitted.”
In a statement, Portland Pipe Line spokesman Ted O’Meara characterized the petition drive as one filled with “misinformation, exaggeration and mistruths.” At a public hearing in March, attended by nearly 400 people, Pipe Line officials said there is no proposal to reverse flow of their 236-mile line to Montreal, although it is interested in any proposals that come its way.
Long thought to be “garbage crude,” diluted bitumen is not pumped from underground but surface mined and boiled loose from the sandstone it saturates. As traditional sources of crude oil have dried up, and as technology has improved, bitumen has become financially feasible to extract. Alberta, Canada, has one of the world’s largest deposits.
However, bitumen has the consistency of peanut butter â its pejorative comes from the product’s resemblance to tar â and cannot be pushed through pipelines unless it is heated or diluted with other materials. Because of these additives, including heavy metals naturally present that may be concentrated by the extraction process, and its presumed corrosiveness, tar sands are targeted by many environmental groups. One local contingent, 350 Maine, calls it “the dirtiest fuel on the planet.”
On Nov. 29, pipeline giant Enbridge filed an application with Canada’s National Energy Board to reverse the flow of one of its major lines to carry “heavy crude” oil out of western Canada. According to environmental news service EcoWatch.org, which posted a story the next day, “It is widely understood this filing is part of a larger oil export plan to move tar sands out of Alberta, east through Montreal and down to Maine.”
The Enbridge filing sent environmental activists here on the warpath. They expanded protests that began gestating last summer by staging demonstrations and rallying residents against the possibility of tar sands entering Maine via the 62-year-old Portland Montreal Pipe Line artery, which runs from Montreal refineries, through Vermont and New Hampshire and past Sebago Lake, to the company’s home base in South Portland.