SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Both sides in the debate over a proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance are taking steps to make their positions more attractive to city voters.
Five of seven City Councilors, meanwhile, on Monday announced their opposition to the WPO, which they believe is a poorly worded attempt to keep Canadian tar-sands oil from being delivered via pipeline to tankers in South Portland.
A referendum vote on the changes proposed to Chapter 27 of the city codes, which would ban expansion and enlargement of petroleum-related facilities in the Shipyard District and shoreland areas of the Commercial District, is three weeks away, on Nov. 5.
On Friday, in an editorial board meeting at The Forecaster, Natalie West, the attorney who wrote the proposed ordinance for Concerned Citizens of South Portland, disclosed the group has submitted a letter to the city in support of a three-phase, $1.5 million project at Sprague Energy on Main Street that the company had said was threatened by the WPO.
“This is the kind of maintenance and improvement project that we welcome and support along our industrial waterfront,” West said in the letter to Code Enforcement Officer Pat Doucette.
West’s disclosure was followed on Monday, in another meeting at The Forecaster, by an announcement from Portland Pipe Line Co. President and Chief Executive Officer Larry Wilson that an emissions permit his company has from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to build vapor combustion units needed to burn off additives to diluted tar-sands oil will be allowed to expire Feb. 25, 2014 – if it cannot be voided sooner.
Wilson said he is discussing the early termination of the permit with state officials to demonstrate his company has no plans to reverse the flow of one of its 236-mile pipe lines to bring the oil to the city from Montreal.
The permit was first approved in 2009, when the city Planning Board also approved construction of two, 70-foot vapor combustion units on a Portland Pipe Line pier near Bug Light Park.
The city permit has expired; the DEP permit was extended on Aug. 27, 2012.
While emphasizing there are still no plans to import the oil, Wilson said the prospect is one that remains under consideration.
“I’m not going to tell you I will never move (tar sands),” he said.
West’s support of the $1.5 million upgrade of Sprague infrastructure did not impress company Vice President Burton Russell, who Monday said at least five upgrade projects since 1996 would have been blocked if the ordinance had been place.
Russell said the WPO as written will block improvement projects and prevent the company from providing infrastructure to handle alternative energy sources.
Mayor Tom Blake was among ordinance backers who attended Friday’s meeting at the newspaper office in Falmouth. But he and Councilor Pattie Smith are now in a clear minority on the council, where Councilors Jerry Jalbert, Linda Cohen, Melissa Linscott, Al Livingston and Michael Pock on Monday released a letter opposing the WPO.
“The proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance does not protect the waterfront of South Portland,” the letter said. “Instead of banning a product, the proposed ordinance is a land use ordinance that can have a negative effect on our working waterfront and does not protect the blue-collar jobs of the working waterfront.”
Ordinance supporters say the changes will not affect existing uses in affected zones and that the overall scope of the city code protects the seven oil distribution facilities in those zones.