In the latest pre-emptive salvo against a potential project that has garnered significant advance attention, a group of South Portlanders has launched a citizens' initiative to change the city's zoning ordinance in order to prevent the Portland Pipe Line Corporation from processing tar-sands oil through its Casco Bay facility.
"We don't want to become the North American port for tar sands," says Robert Sellin, one of the leading SoPo activists.
The "Waterfront Protection Ordinance" is a response to the looming (and some say phantasmal) prospect of the Portland Pipe Line Corporation and its parent entities (which include ExxonMobil) reversing the flow in their pipelines to transport tar-sands oil from Western Canada through Quebec and New England to South Portland. Currently the 236-mile pipeline carries regular crude oil in the opposite direction.
When the Portland Pipe Line Corp. previously considered the reversal option in 2008, it filed plans to expand and upgrade its oil-export infrastructure. The plans indicate that to process tar sands in South Portland would require building two 70-foot smokestacks (more than 20 feet taller than any existing smokestacks) between Bug Light and the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse.
The Concerned Citizens of South Portland organization, which is spearheading the initiative drive, has seized on those would-be smokestacks, pointing out that (should it become a reality) the "project is completely at odds with South Portland's Comprehensive plan, which residents developed to guide our city's future." That plan, adopted last October, "envisions transitioning the Shipyard area, where Exxon's stacks would be built, to a mixed-use area that that protects traditional marine uses while accommodating recreational, business, and residential uses. [G]iant smokestacks that cause additional air pollution don't fit, and our zoning should reflect that."
In turn, the proposed ordinance would limit "enlargement or expansion of existing petroleum storage tank farms and accessory piers, pumping and distribution facilities," as well as "construction of any new combustion units, stacks, vapor recovery systems," and more.
While Portland Pipe Line CEO Larry Wilson did tell the Bangor Daily News in February that the company is "aggressively looking for every opportunity" to remain economically healthy — including possible pipeline reversal — the company appeared offended by the initiative campaign. Pointing out that it has paid $25 million in property taxes to the city over the past 30 years, the company released a somewhat indignant statement.
"We are not currently proposing to construct facilities at our marine terminal, but should we desire to develop our facilities further we have every confidence that the City of South Portland and other agencies would treat us fairly and consistently as they have in the past," the statement reads. "In the meantime, we ask that the community not discriminate against one of the top taxpayers and job creators in the city."
The Concerned Citizens of South Portland plan to turn in the required 950 signatures at City Hall on Monday morning; if certified, the initiative will be on November's ballot.