Otisfield town meeting voters OK petition opposing transportation of tar-sands oil

Posted June 30, 2013, at 1:14 p.m.

OTISFIELD, Maine — Voters approved a $1.4 million municipal budget at the annual town meeting Saturday morning in just three hours.

They also OK’d every article in the 25-article warrant that sought approvals, including two citizen-initiated petitions.

One opposed the possible transport of tar-sands oil through Otisfield and Maine; the other, to withdraw $22,606 from a trust fund for the Otisfield Historical Society to complete work on the 1905 Otisfield Town House.

After electing Frank Blauvelt moderator, the larger-than-normal crowd got in some exercise with the next four articles. Otisfield elects its municipal officers from the floor by casting secret ballots rather than a show of hands.

Selectman Lenny Adler was re-elected to a three-year term; Selectman Hal Ferguson was elected chairman, receiving 69 votes; Richard Bean was re-elected as road commissioner, capturing 67 votes to Bob Harris’ 2 votes; and Joe Vaillancourt received 64 votes for another three-year term as SAD 17 school board director.

The crowd then took the petition articles out of turn, starting with the tar-sands article. Speakers got five minutes each.

Article 24 sought adoption of “A Resolution to Protect the Health and Safety of Local Citizens, Water Bodies and Other Natural Resources in Relation to the Possible Transport of Tar Sands Oil through Maine.”

The action was intended to send a message that the town does not want tar sands shipped through a pipeline that crosses Otisfield at the Crooked River. It crosses the river six times and crosses the Androscoggin River twice, resident Vicki Rogers said.

The Portland-Montreal Pipeline transports conventional crude oil from tanker ships in South Portland to Montreal — a 236-mile trip. It runs along and crosses some of Maine’s most critical lake and river watersheds, including the Crooked River, Androscoggin River and Sebago Lake, which supplies Greater Portland’s drinking water.

Environmental advocates and Otisfield residents who urged a yes vote on the resolution said they believe a plan is in the works to allow a Canadian company to pump tar-sands oil through the 62-year-old Portland Pipeline for export to global markets.

Rogers said there hasn’t been a spill yet, but that’s not what she’s worried about.

“The problem is the cleanup,” she said, detailing a possible spill scenario with tar-sands oil and the potential ecological damage.

Rogers said that when tar-sands oil spills, it sinks into riverbeds and lakebeds. This makes spills more hazardous and cleanup nearly impossible because the oil is diluted with additional toxic chemicals for pipe transport, Rogers said.

She said accidents happen and added that she received a form letter from the Portland Pipe Line Corp. about the tar sands oil issue, which was supposed to be sent to another resident.

The Rev. Genise Stern, said she, too, received an erroneous mailing.

“The pipeline has a wonderful record to date of no spills,” Stern said. “But we’re not talking about a regular oil spill. We’re talking 20, 30, 40 years of impacts to this community, our human health and life, our vegetation, our animals.

“We’re not talking about a simple fix,” she said. “This (tar-sands oil) is a totally different animal.”

Several other residents expressed distrust of the Portland Pipe Line Corp., which has publicly said it has no plan to reverse the flow and ship tar-sands oil.

After being allowed to speak, nonresident Larry D. Wilson, president and chief executive of Portland Pipe Line Corp., apologized for errors in the form letter mailings.

He attacked anti-tar-sands oil literature but said he understood why people are fearful.

“There are so many mistakes, inaccuracies that I could spend 15 to 20 minutes explaining the actual facts,” Wilson said.

Instead, he spoke about the corporation and its employees, then reiterated that the corporation doesn’t have any project in place to transport tar-sands oil — or any clients.

“I’m not an evil guy,” Wilson said. “In fact, I love the Lord. I love the environment.”

Stern’s husband, Jeff Stern, chairman of the Otisfield Conservation Committee, urged passage of the resolution. He said the tar-sands oil would not benefit Maine and Otisfield — but rather, it will be shipped to China and India.

“And there’s no government review, unless we ask for it,” Jeff Stern said.

After more discussion, voters overwhelmingly passed the resolution.

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