February 23, 2019
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Opponents hold heavy campaign spending advantage as anti-tar sands ordinance debate reaches final week in South Portland

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Supporters of the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance on the Nov. 5 city ballot will finally send out a mass campaign mailing this week, but they are still being outspent by opponents by an almost 6-to-1 margin.

Spending reports filed Oct. 25 at City Hall, covering Oct. 1-22 and summarizing the entire campaign, show ordinance supporters have spent about $108,000, while the Working Waterfront Coalition, established to defeat the ordinance, has spent almost $600,000.

The ordinance revisions to Chapter 27 of the city code would ban expansion and enlargement of petroleum-related facilities and infrastructure in some waterfront commercial districts.

From the outset, the fight has centered on the intent of the ordinance language, with supporters saying it is the best and only means of preventing a reversal of pipelines owned by Portland Pipe Line Corp. so diluted bitumen “tar sands” oil can flow down from Canada.

Opponents argue the ordinance is so broadly written it would prevent all waterfront businesses engaged in petroleum distribution from making any needed upgrades, or from expanding to meet market conditions or new safety standards.

Supporters formed the Protect South Portland political action committee, which received a boost this month with more than $35,000 in cash contributions.

Robert Sellin of Protect South Portland said Monday he was heartened by the support, as almost $6,800 has come from citizen donations. The Natural Resources Council of Maine donated $27,000.

Sellin said $15,000 will be spent on this week’s mailing, which will be done by Mission Control of Mansfield, Conn., a firm largely specializing in direct mailings for Democratic candidates, according to its website.

“We are just trying to get one in on our side this week,” Sellin said.

Also contributing to efforts to pass the ordinance is Save Bug Light, formed by Portland-based Environment Maine. Records show Save Bug Light has been funded with more than $17,000 of in-kind contributions and $4,300 in loans.

Members of climate action group 350 Maine provided vocal and visual support, including a march to Mill Creek Park last Saturday, and city resident Sharon Herrick and other volunteers created votesopo.org. There are no recorded cash or in-kind contributions from those efforts.

Opponents of the ordinance, led by the Maine Energy Marketers Association’s Working Waterfront Coalition, have relied this month on $40,000 cash contributions from Citgo, Gulf Oil and Irving Oil, and more than $71,000 of in-kind contributions.

The Washington D.C.-based American Petroleum Institute provided more than $27,000 of in-kind contributions, including $15,000 for consulting.

Campaign manager Dan Demeritt said reliance on companies that could be affected by the ordinance is intentional.

“Our effort has been funded by the working waterfront terminals, we have not asked people for $50 or $100 contributions,” DeMeritt said Monday. “The API is supporting this because it is extremely important to the industry as a whole. South Portland is linked to industry markets throughout the region.”

Demeritt called the fight a regional one because of the potential for increased energy costs if waterfront industries are shut down.

About 40 percent of opposition campaign spending, or $241,000, has not been paid for yet, but Demeritt said there will be no outstanding debts after the Nov. 5 election.

“The obligations will be met,” Demeritt said. “We’ve had discussions about what it takes to get the message out. There is a commitment to make sure the bills are paid.”

Spending records show the coalition has relied on paid help to get its message out, spending more than $10,000 for consulting this month and almost $7,000 for salaries for canvassing. The coalition spent almost $55,000 on its campaign in the first three weeks of this month.

Demeritt said resident volunteers have pitched in by placing signs throughout the city and speaking with voters at the city transfer station.

Sellin said Protect South Portland’s mailers will be followed by a lot of footwork.

“The only thing that can be done is to aggressively go out with canvassing,” Sellin said. “It will be a last push to get our message out.”

In the final week of the campaign, meanwhile, endorsements continued to pile up largely on the side of ordinance opponents. The Working Waterfront Coalition announced support from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and former Gov. John Baldacci, while an editorial in The Forecaster urged voters to reject the WPO.

Polls will be open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Election Day. District 1 voters cast ballots at the Boys & Girls Club, 169 Broadway; District 2 polling is at the American Legion Hall, 413 Broadway; District 3 and 4 residents vote at the Community Center, 21 Nelson Road, and District 5 residents vote at the Redbank Community Center on MacArthur Circle West.

Absentee ballots can be obtained online or at City Hall until 6:30 p.m. Oct. 31, and must be returned by 8 p.m. Nov. 5.

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