SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Supporters of the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance on Tuesday launched a barrage of attacks against “big oil.”
“This is a David versus Goliath battle,” Carol Masterson said in a press conference at the Ocean Street campaign headquarters for Protect South Portland, the organization formed to promote changes to the city code.
With Mayor Tom Blake and University of Southern Maine law professor David Owen contributing statements, Masterson led an assault on foes of the ordinance that supporters say will prevent Canadian tar sands oil from reaching the city through pipelines owned by Portland Pipe Line Co.
The 236-miles of pipelines to Montreal are used to ship oil from the city. In 2009, the company planned to reverse the flow of one of the pipelines so oil could be shipped to the city and loaded onto tankers at a company pier near Bug Light Park.
The proposed ordinance, which would ban expansion of oil tanks and petroleum-related infrastructure and prohibit loading tankers at docks, will not spell the end of the existing oil industry on the city waterfront, Owen said.
“The Waterfront Protection Ordinance will prevent the development of tar sands export facilities on the South Portland waterfront, and that is all. Other businesses can and will continue to thrive,” he said.
Speakers also attacked a previously released report by economist Charles Lawton that predicts a shutdown of waterfront oil businesses if the ordinance is approved, leading to the loss of 5,600 jobs and $252 million in income over ten years. They said Lawton’s conclusion is based on a false premise the ordinance would block the expansion of existing petroleum-related businesses.
“The oil industry paid $15,000 for the study, which is based on an imaginary scenario,” Masterson said. “No matter how much money the industry has to plaster ads in newspapers and online, its claims are still 100 percent false.”
“The oil industry is spreading false and misleading information in an attempt to divert attention from this crucial decision for our community,” Blake said in a statement, which was read by activist Bob Klotz because Blake’s voice was affected by throat problems.
But opponents of the ordinance include more than representatives of the oil industry.
City Council candidates Maxine Beecher and Carol Thorne have said the language in the ordinance is too broadly written, will constrain existing operations and is inconsistent with the updated comprehensive plan enacted by councilors a year ago. Beecher, who is a former city councilor, led the committee that updated the plan; Thorne served on the Planning Board from 1996 to 2011.
After the press conference, Planning Board member Rob Schreiber, a foe of importing tar sands oil, attacked the ordinance in a release issued by the South Portland Working Waterfront Coalition.
In August, Planning Board members voted 4-2 to issue an advisory that the ordinance is inconsistent with the updated comprehensive plan.
Owen saw it from another perspective.
“I strongly disagree with the conclusion,” Owen said. “We think they are misreading the ordinance and were strongly encouraged to misread it.”
In a Sept. 27 interview, and again Tuesday, Blake attributed the Planning Board vote to unidentified members of the board feeling “intimidated” by the presence of oil industry executives and attorneys.
He also said his experience indicates comprehensive plans are interpreted differently. He said the ordinance is a good fit because it balances a healthy quality of life with business development.
No matter how the ordinance is interpreted, financial documents submitted to City Clerk Sue Mooney this week show foes of the ordinance are raising money at a 10-to-1 advantage over supporters.
The quarterly financial report filed by the Maine Energy Marketers Association, which formed the coalition to fight the ballot question, shows cash contributions of $30,000 from Portland Pipe Line, $20,000 from Gulf Oil and $10,000 each from Sprague Energy and Cianbro Corp.
In-kind contributions to the energy association amount to $196,000, with more than $138,000 from the Washington, D.C.-based American Petroleum Institute. The largest in-kind APC contribution is almost $37,000 for “grassroots and printing services.”
The association listed paid expenditures of almost $26,000, with almost $12,000 spent on “grassroots development” at five Maine advertising firms or consultants.
Ordinance backers, including Protect South Portland, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Save Bug Light, have raised about $6,000 in cash and loans and received about $21,600 of in-kind contributions.
The largest cash contribution for supporters was $242 from Pine Street resident Ann Lundquist to Protect South Portland.
Robert Sellin of Protect South Portland and Masterson on Tuesday pointed to the extension of a Maine Department of Environmental Protection air emissions permit to show Portland Pipe Line is intent on importing tar sands to the city.
Although a city permit issued in 2009 to build vapor combustion units that would burn off additives to the heavy crude oil has expired, the Department of Environmental Protection extended its permit through Feb. 25, 2014 — at the request of Portland Pipe Line.
That will make it easier for Portland Pipe Line to approach the Planning Board for a new permit for vapor combustion units, unless their construction is specifically banned by the proposed ordinance, Sellin said.
Blake took a personal approach in his opposition to the vapor combustion units. He said the tar sands oil additives, including benzene and volatile organic compounds, are possible carcinogens and would add to smog levels that could trigger his asthma attacks.
“The oil industry is not looking out for the best interests of South Portland residents, businesses and the future,” Masterson said. “They want to bring tar sands to South Portland, no matter what the cost to our community.”