When the Waterfront Protection Ordinance was defeated in South Portland last fall, proponents were quick to point out that the vote was not a referendum on tar sands, but on that one specific ordinance, which sought to amend the city’s zoning laws to prevent tar sands oil from being loaded onto ships at SoPo’s waterfront.
BEYOND THE POLLS Anti-tar sands activists rally and strategize in South Portland
“People’s feelings are clear...they don’t want to be known as the tar sands capitol of the United States,” mayor Jerry Jalbert said at the time. Shortly thereafter, the city passed a 180-day moratorium on any development or project involving tar sands oil.
With the Clear Skies Ordinance, unveiled at a meeting last week, South Portland is taking a different, narrower approach to keeping tar sands out of Southern Maine.
The ordinance, crafted over five months by a three-person committee that met close to 20 times and held multiple public sessions, aims “to protect the health and welfare of its residents and visitors and to promote future development consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan by prohibiting within the City the bulk loading of crude oil onto marine tank vessels, and also by prohibiting construction or installation of related facilities, structures, or equipment that would create significant new sources of air pollution, adversely impact or obstruct ocean views and scenic view-sheds, and impede or adversely impact the City’s land use and planning goals.”
Specifically, it cites the release of toxic gases, emitted when crude oil is bulk-loaded onto marine tankers, as reason to prohibit that activity. Currently, conventional oil is shipped into Portland Harbor and then pumped northward, through Maine and into Canada. Activists worry that pipeline executives are seeking to reverse the flow in the decades-old pipes, in order to accommodate tar sands oil from Western Canada.
“[I]t is a way for the city to say ‘no’ to one type of industrial operation that, even during normal operations, would threaten air, coastal wildlife, and city aesthetics,” according to Protect South Portland, a community advocacy organization. Read the full ordinance at southportland.org.
The full South Portland city council will take its first vote on the ordinance on July 7. If passed, it will move on for consideration by the planning board on July 15. The second, and final, reading of the ordinance is scheduled for July 21. A majority vote of the council is needed to adopt the ordinance.
Greater Portlanders eager to learn more have an opportunity July 13, two days before the city council vote. Sierra Club Maine is co-sponsoring a 55-seat charter bus to bring anti-tar sands activists to a peaceful rally and protest in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, where they’ll have the opportunity to discuss the issue with environmentalists from throughout New England. Visit action.sierraclub.org for details.
This week, EnvironmentMaine will release a report dissecting what it says is a national strategy on the part of Big Oil to squash efforts like the Clear Skies Ordinance.
Clear Skies Ordinance supporters at a public meeting wity city council officials June 25