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South Portland council should vote no on anti-oil sands ordinance

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine -- 07/09/14 -- More than 400 people gathered at the South Portland Community Center gymnasium Wednesday night, July 9, when the City Council gave preliminary approval to legislation that would ban tar sands from the city's waterfront.
Shelby Carignan | The Forecaster
SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine -- 07/09/14 -- More than 400 people gathered at the South Portland Community Center gymnasium Wednesday night, July 9, when the City Council gave preliminary approval to legislation that would ban tar sands from the city's waterfront.
Posted July 20, 2014, at 10:28 a.m.
Last modified July 21, 2014, at 9:02 a.m.

As president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, I am pleased to be joined by Matt Marks, president of the Associated General Contractors of Maine; Brian Parke, president of the Maine Motor Transport Association; Hope Perkins, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors’ Maine chapter; Jamie Py, president of the Maine Energy Marketers Association; Maria Fuentes, president of the Maine Better Transportation Association; and Patrick Strauch, president of the Maine Forest Products Council on this important issue in our state.

We are Mainers.

What does that mean? It means we care about our environment, we work hard, we value the opinion of our neighbors, and we desire a future full of opportunities for generations to come.

We are also, by the nature of our jobs, consensus builders. We often look beyond our goals to find a place where people of different opinions can agree in order to create stronger outcomes with broad support. This year, many of our organizations worked with many partners to draft a clean water bill that will help provide jobs, protect our environment, and educate Mainers about the importance of fish passage in our rivers.

We represent the truck driver who delivers goods to market, the energy companies who keep Mainers warm in the winter, the forester who works in Maine’s woods to produce lumber and wood for our forest industry, the folks who fix our roads and keep Maine’s transportation system moving for all Mainers, and many, many others across our great state. These are the same local companies that sponsor Little League teams, are active in our communities and are our neighbors who want nothing more than the best for Mainers and our families.

At this moment, the actions of one community threaten the livelihood and jobs of a number of Maine residents. The South Portland City Council is engaged in an effort to overturn a proposal concerning the portland pipeline that voters have already once decided. It’s a flawed effort that is being driven by outside special interest groups that does a disservice to the voters and to the impacted business.

So why do Maine’s largest business advocates care about South Portland? This issue and the actions of the council have broad implications on local, state, national and international commerce. It is really that simple.

The potential ordinance, which would ban the bulk loading of crude oil in certain areas, would change the zoning for existing businesses. The entire context of a committee report produced prior to this ordinance indicates their decision to drive out businesses, and more specifically an industry that is critical to the energy security of Northern New England. Nowhere in does the report does it reference that over the last several decades, these businesses have contributed to this city by providing access to land, creating one of the best parks in the city, and allowing use of property for open space.

There is a certain irony in the report’s blatant use of terms such as “scenic values or scenic views” or “as older industrial interests and transportation uses of the waterfront become obsolete.” This is clearly creating a pathway to push out companies with decades of safe operating history for a new South Portland.

It is no secret that each of the business leaders and signatories to this OpEd are advocates for jobs, business growth and land use rights. We are not hiding behind the curtain, and instead we are proud of the working men and women we represent, the business owners we represent, and the jobs that our companies and our industries provide to hard-working Mainers. At our heart, we are consensus builders. But any attempt to work towards consensus — or even meaningful dialogue for that matter — has been thwarted by the certainty of the convictions of the many outside interests, both paid and unpaid, that have brought this ordinance before the council.

Every day we work with people across the table to produce policies that benefit Mainers, by preserving our environment and way of life while also fostering business growth and job creation. Those things do not and should not be mutually exclusive. And yet once again, a local business with a long record of community stewardship is forced to fight for its very existence despite a prior affirmation from the citizens of South Portland.

We all support new energy — from tidal, to wind, to solar — and although we may still be decades away from making each those our predominate source of energy, Maine cannot afford to drive away our primary resource for keeping us warm during the winter or providing fuel to make sure we can drive to work. Our organizations have worked hard to make sure wind energy is part of our future, tidal energy will be explored, and to strike a sustainable balance between protecting our environment and providing energy resources for Mainers year round.

We encourage the council to consider the message they are sending in enacting an ordinance that, at its heart, subverts the will of the voters, endangers hundreds of jobs both directly and indirectly, and sends a troubling message to business both inside and outside of our state regarding their future stability and viability.

Last, when the councilors look out over the audience and see shirts of one color and shirts of another, we encourage them to understand that the many people who aren’t present and are busy working and living their lives, deserve responsible and informed representation.

We don’t have a particular problem with the council listening to concerns of an energized and vocal minority of residents who tried unsuccessfully last November to get the Waterfront Protection Ordinance passed. If there are ways to reasonably mitigate their concerns, we encourage such a dialogue.

What we find objectionable, however, is the fact that six of the seven councilors have decided to subscribe to the musings of the throngs of out of staters who have devoted their time and resources to the misguided notion that South Portland is better off without a working waterfront.

We ask the council to not ignore the majority of South Portland residents who successfully voted against the WPO and those of us who might not be residents but will certainly be impacted by the council’s decision.

Dana Connors is president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

 

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