SOUTH PORTLAND – On Aug. 19, the South Portland City Council will decide whether to adopt the Waterfront Protection Ordinance or place it on the Nov. 5 ballot.
In June, almost 4,000 South Portland voters signed petitions supporting the ordinance, expressing their opposition to pumping tar sands oil through South Portland for export.
Those citizens are seeking to protect their air and water quality, and ensure a healthy, sustainable city by restricting inappropriate industrial development on the waterfront.
For those not yet aware of the tar sands oil plan, the Portland Pipe Line Corp. owns a 63-year-old pipeline and 23 oil storage tanks (160 million gallons in capacity), built many years ago, for transporting conventional crude oil from South Portland to Montreal.
That use has slowed in recent years, and the city has grown and changed around it.
In 2009, with little public discussion, Portland Pipe Line obtained a permit from the city to reverse flow in its pipeline between South Portland and Montreal to bring tar sands oil south for export.
The permit authorized a new pump station next to the Kaler School. It also approved construction of two 70-foot smokestacks, and vapor transfer and incineration units on the existing pier near Bug Light.
Fortunately, that permit expired before construction occurred, and we have an opportunity to make different choices for our future.
Most of Portland Pipe Line’s storage tanks are about three miles inland from Bug Light. They are bordered by the Community Center, South Portland High School, the Kaler and Dyer elementary schools, The Lighthouse School and residential areas.
Close-up photos on Google Earth show empty tanks; some citizens have even forgotten that they are still there. Yet those tanks could be filled with tar sands crude.
Crude oil stored in these tanks while awaiting shipment will emit a host of toxic compounds, including cancer-causing benzene and toluene.
Portland Pipe Line’s oil storage tanks are already the eighth largest source of similar volatile organic compound emissions in Maine. The company has a state permit to discharge 220 tons of pollutants from its tanks. That’s nearly triple its current emissions.
This is more than twice the total emissions from Bath Iron Works, a facility that employs between 4,500 and 5,000 people. (Portland Pipe Line employs 35 people.) The environmental cost is just too high.
Our city has just invested more than $40 million to upgrade our high school. We have remodeled the Dyer and Kaler schools.
Allowing an oil company to emit hundreds of tons of contaminants a few hundred feet away is not the way to protect the health of our community or the investment of our tax dollars.
The citizens’ ordinance will protect and shape the community where we want to live, raise our families and grow old.
Existing businesses can continue to operate the way they do now, including oil-related businesses. The Waterfront Protection Ordinance will simply accomplish its limited goal of preventing enlargement of industrial petroleum businesses in the area near Bug Light Park and within 250 feet of the Fore River.
Oil companies and their lawyers have already begun their opposition campaign, including making exaggerated claims about impacts on existing businesses.
Together with our existing zoning ordinance, the Waterfront Protection Ordinance supports a range of marine uses — marinas, restaurants, shipyards and parks — on our recreational waterfront.
The zoning ordinance will continue to allow such marine uses now and in the future, including fueling boats on the waterfront.
It will prevent the creation of a tar sands oil export facility adjacent to Bug Light Park.
The city of South Portland’s Community Vision says this is “a community where people want to live, to raise a family, to retire.”
I know that’s true: My husband and I have been South Portland taxpayers since 2005, when we chose this city as our home. We have promises to keep — to spend time with our children and grandchildren, to sail the coast of Maine.
But after talking with our neighbors, and studying the facts, we’re convinced that vigilance is still the price of liberty, and tar sands oil pumped through South Portland would be wrong.
We therefore decided to work with other concerned citizens in support of the Waterfront Protection Ordinance.
We urge the citizens of South Portland to join us in supporting this ordinance so we can work together to build a diversified, sustainable economy, with clean air and water for all.
Natalie West is a retired attorney who lives in South Portland and is one of the authors of the Waterfront Protection Ordinance.