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Debate over tar sands rages in South Portland

The South Portland City Council listened to more than two hours of public comment from almost 70 residents, environmentalists, waterfront workers and oil industry representatives at the Community Center on Wednesday, July 9, before casting an initial vote in favor of a ban on tar sands in the city.
Shelby Carignan | The Forecaster
The South Portland City Council listened to more than two hours of public comment from almost 70 residents, environmentalists, waterfront workers and oil industry representatives at the Community Center on Wednesday, July 9, before casting an initial vote in favor of a ban on tar sands in the city.
Posted July 21, 2014, at 6:50 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — More than a year of debate about the flow of heavy crude oil — commonly known as tar sands — through South Portland reaches its climax Monday night.

The City Council is slated to take its final vote to enact an ordinance that would ban the bulk loading of crude oil — including the controversial, thicker bituminous oil — onto tanker vessels in the city’s port. During previous votes, the City Council and planning board supported the ban by 6-1 tallies.

A previously proposed ordinance intended to block the bituminous oil — by restricting pier upgrades that would have been necessary to accommodate the thicker oil — lost in a close citywide vote last November. Since then, a city committee has drafted an alternative ordinance intended to essentially achieve the same goal, but by a different means.

The debate has spilled far beyond the city limits, as supporters argue a ban is needed to protect Maine from what they believe are heightened environmental and safety risks associated with the bituminous oil, while opponents assert that it would place unreasonable limitations on waterfront businesses and worsen the region’s energy woes.

It’s an issue of national significance as opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline take on a higher-profile battle dealing with the same concerns.

The debate in South Portland also has become one about home rule, money in politics, grass-roots organizing and business friendliness.

As that long debate comes to a head with a vote from South Portland councilors Monday night, follow the play-by-play here in a series of live tweets:

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