A citizens group says they will try to change a zoning law to prevent Canadian tar sands oil from being pumped through the city and prohibit building new infrastructure to process it.
SOUTH PORTLAND—A citizen group opposed to the prospect of Canadian tar sands oil being pumped to South Portland for shipment overseas said Thursday it will attempt to change a city zoning law to prevent the project coming to fruition.
At a rally of a couple dozen supporters outside South Portland City Hall Thursday, leaders of the Concerned Citizens of South Portland unveiled a revised law and a petition to place a question for its approval by voters on the November ballot. Before that happens, volunteers must collect 950 validated signatures by June 17, according to the group.
“South Portland is the only city or town where we have any leverage,” said Roberta Zuckerman, a member of the citizen group. “There is a lot resting on what South Portland does at this time.”
For the pipeline to import Canadian oil, its owners would have to spend millions to be build new infrastructure on the existing pier, including two smoke stacks that opponents said would emit greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and would be unsightly additions to the landscape.
If passed by voters, the zoning provision would define and specifically allow the pipeline’s current use. The pipeline has operated for decades, moving imported oil from a shipping terminal in South Portland to refineries in Montreal. A separate section of the zoning provision would bar the expansion of petroleum tanks and the construction of new equipment that would be used for the loading of oil exports onto ships within the Shipyard District zoning area.
Framed as a zoning issue, Concerned Citizens co-chair Robert Sellin said the city will be on firm legal footing if the zoning initiative passes the voters and faces a challenge from petroleum companies.
“The only strategy that is defensible in court is the well established, settled law of communities controlling their land use,” Sellin said.
Sellin said the group’s proposal also aligns with a comprehensive plan that calls for the city to phase out heavy industrial use in the waterfront area.
Representatives of the Portland Pipe Line Corp., operator of the pipeline, have said any future decision to export Canadian tar sands oil through the pipeline would not increase environmental risks from the operation.