By Kate Irish Collins
KeepMECurrent news story
SOUTH PORTLAND – The committee in South Portland that has been working on creating new rules to regulate the flow of tar-sands oil within the city limits got it mostly right according to the majority of people who spoke during last week’s public forum on the proposed ordinance.
In fact, before the meeting officially started, the committee members received a prolonged standing ovation from those in attendance.
Under the draft rules, the loading of crude oil, including tar-sands oil onto marine tank vessels, would be prohibited, as would the construction, installation or operation of any related facilities or structures.
In opening the public forum on June 5, Jeff Edelstein, facilitator for the Draft Ordinance Committee, said members had held 16 meetings and spent about 50 hours in crafting the new rules that put a focus on preventing new sources of air pollution, the obstruction of ocean views and any development that would impede the city’s land-use goals, particularly on the waterfront.
In all, the committee said that keeping tar sands out of South Portland allows the city to protect its community vision of having a mixed-use waterfront, “a green city that protects air quality,” a community where schools are “not impacted by incompatible adjacent uses” and a community that is a desirable place to live.
Crystal Goodrich, a spokeswoman for Protect South Portland, the group of residents and others working to prevent tar sands from coming to the city, said the new rules being proposed by the Draft Ordinance Committee, “hit all of the important points.”
Emily Figdor, the director of Environment Maine, which has been working closely with Protect South Portland on the tar-sands issue, commended the committee for “a really outstanding job.”
She also praised the committee for a “most inclusive, transparent and thorough process” in creating its recommendations and said the new ordinance is “moving in the right direction.”
However, Figdor was concerned that the ordinance makes no mention of tar sands, even though it includes a prohibition against diluted bitumen, which is a form of tar sands.
She also urged the committee to name the sources for its many scientific and medical references in the introduction to the new ordinance, which committee member Russ Pierce said laid the background for the “legislative intent” of the proposed new rules governing unrefined petroleum products.
While Figdor had some suggestions for improvements, both Jordan Becker and Meg Braley felt the ordinance, dubbed the “clear sky ordinance,” is “excellent.”
Becker said as a young person he appreciates the fact that the new rules would protect South Portland’s environment and keep the city from “being threatened by tar sands.”
Braley, who was a school nurse before her retirement, said she appreciated the focus on preventing further air pollution, particularly because many kids these days are afflicted with a variety of respiratory disorders, including asthma.
Braley also said, “What we have in South Portland is a beautiful piece of coastline and aesthetics are very important.” Overall, she said the proposal by the Draft Ordinance Committee is “a great ordinance.”
The only person to speak out against the proposed tar sands prohibition was Chris Owens, from Standish, who said with a fragile economy and a shrinking gross domestic product, the new ordinance says “no to future prosperity, jobs, money and dignity.”
He also called the committee’s work “a supreme act of appeasement to the lunatic fringe.”
During the course of the meeting last week, Edelstein reminded people that the Draft Ordinance Committee is only advisory and that whether the proposed new rules prohibiting tar sands ultimately get adopted would be up to the City Council.
South Portland has a moratorium on any development proposal involving the flow of tar sands, which remains in place until Nov. 1. This gives the council the time it needs to implement any new regulations regarding tar sands.
The council created the Draft Ordinance Committee last fall and it’s made up of three members – Michael Conathan and David Critchfield from South Portland and Pierce, who is from Portland.
Tar sands, which is also called oil sands, is a combination of clay, sand, water and bitumen, which is a heavy and viscous type of oil.
In addition to recommending that South Portland ban tar-sands products from coming through the city, the Draft Ordinance Committee has also suggested that the council amend its comprehensive plan to make the Hill Street Tank Farm, which is located next to the high school, a non-conforming use.
The committee has also said that the vacant lot owned by the Portland Pipe Line Corp. at the corner of Pickett Street and Broadway be rezoned from the commercial shipyard zone to the Pickett Street Neighborhood Center zone instead.
The committee is also recommending that the city review creating new air quality control rules, along with an enforcement mechanism, but called such work above and beyond its own capabilities.