December 09, 2019
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South Portland wins round in court fight over oil pipeline

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
In this file photo, a map on the wall at the Portland Pipe Line Corporation in South Portland shows the pipeline route to Montreal.

A federal judge on Friday rejected all but one of Portland Pipe Line Corp.’s arguments in its efforts to overturn a South Portland ordinance that prevents it from piping in crude oil from Canada.

In a 229-page ruling, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock dismissed claims that the local law is preempted by federal law, but he left open the question of whether it interferes with interstate and international commerce. A trial most likely will be scheduled next year to resolve that issue.

The city’s so-called Clear Skies ordinance, passed in 2014, bans the bulk loading of crude oil into tankers in the city, effectively stopping the pipeline from reversing its south-to-north flow in the future. The pipeline has carried oil north across New England since the 1940s to refineries in Montreal, Canada.

The pipeline company sued South Portland in February 2015 in U.S. District Court in Portland over the ordinance. Woodcock held a hearing last month on motions for summary judgment filed by both sides.

Attorney Jim Merrill of Manchester, New Hampshire, said Friday in an email that the firm will “vigorously continue its challenge of the ordinance.”

He added, “While we are disappointed with aspects of the judge’s decision today, our claim under the commerce clause remains to be decided.”

South Portland City Manager Scott Morelli praised Woodcock’s decision, including the judge’s finding that the ordinance is not inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.

“The city looks forward to the opportunity to resolve the remaining issues in its favor,” he said.

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