SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — The moratorium on loading and unloading so-called “tar sands” oil will likely be extended until Nov. 1.
The City Council on Monday approved a first reading of a proposal to extend the moratorium, which is scheduled to expire May 5. The vote was 6-1, with Councilor Michael Pock dissenting.
The council also approved the business license for a new Mexican restaurant on Main Street near the Maine Turnpike Connector.
The city has been under the tar sands moratorium retroactively since last fall. For the past few weeks a three-member draft ordinance committee has been researching and developing a proposed ordinance, with the goal to permanently prohibit tar sands from coming to the city.
Citing heavy volumes of material to research and discuss, members of the committee do not feel they can finish their work without a six-month extension of the moratorium.
“They have a fair amount of work ahead of them to get through what is a complicated issue, they’re working very hard, and I also want to make sure we don’t burn them out,” committee facilitator Jeff Edelstein told councilors. “They’re quite committed, but we need to take this at a measured pace.”
When asked if he is optimistic about the committee’s chance of successfully drafting a new ordinance, Edelstein, an engineer, rated their probability at 70 percent.
With the exception of Pock, councilors said they believe the extension is valid because the committee is making steady and significant progress, and should not be rushed to a conclusion.
“The moratorium was not an easy decision. … It was a way to deal with what we felt was an ongoing problem” Mayor Jerry Jalbert said. “It will be difficult work, but it seems reasonable to extend it.”
Pock, who has supported creation of the draft ordinance committee, but voted against the moratorium, disagreed.
“I feel it’s unfair and unbalanced to slap a moratorium on a business who’s been a good business and friend of the city for the last several years,” he said, referring Portland Pipe Line Corp.
Five residents expressed support for the moratorium extension. Patricia White said she has attended every meeting of the draft ordinance committee.
“They’re doing phenomenal work,” she told the council.
Referencing a recent newspaper advertisement published in support of Canadian oil, White added, “It’s important the moratorium is extended because there is intent (to import tar sands).”
The moratorium extension comes on the heels of the release of court documents last week by the National Wildlife Foundation that argue the Portland Pipe Line Corp.’s 64-year-old oil pipeline connecting to Montreal has outlived its lifespan. The claim added more fuel to arguments against possibly reversing the existing pipeline to bring tar sands to South Portland.
The moratorium extension now goes to the Planning Board on April 8, where board members will recommend action for the council, and then back to the Council on April 23 for a second and final reading.
If the draft ordinance committee finishes its work and brings forward a proposal, the moratorium can be discontinued at any point.
The council also approved the business and liquor license for Los Tapatios, paving the way for the Biddeford Mexican restaurant to expand to 671 Main St.
The space at the corner of Westbrook Street, next to the Howard Johnson hotel, has been unoccupied for several years. It most recently hosted Mexican restaurant Mi Mexico Lindo, as well as Yankee Grill and Tony Roma’s.
“This is a fantastic location; for some reason its had mixed success, but hopefully this will change that,” Jalbert said.
Owner Teddy Cotsis said he hopes to open the new Los Tapatios by the end of the month.