On Nov. 5, South Portland voters face a stark choice. If the Waterfront Protection Ordinance passes, the city’s waterfront will remain as it is. Bug Light Park will still be a wonderful place for children to play. Marinas, restaurants and houses will continue to share the shore with a variety of industrial uses.

A “no” vote on the ordinance will give the Portland Pipe Line Corp., a corporate subsidiary of ExxonMobil, a green light to turn South Portland into a center for exporting tar sands oil. That will mean new smokestacks, tons of additional toxic emissions and more tankers carrying tar sands oil across Casco Bay.

That threat is real and immediate, for big oil companies like ExxonMobil are primed to take advantage of the huge volumes of tar sands being extracted from Alberta. All they need is an outlet to the global market.

South Portland represents the industry’s latest gambit, and Portland Pipe Line has taken concrete steps to pursue it. Just last February, when Vermont legislators asked the company CEO whether he intended to use the pipeline for tar sands, he responded that his company was “aggressively looking at every opportunity to use these excellent assets.”

To protect their community, South Portland citizens put the Waterfront Protection Ordinance on the November ballot. The proposed ordinance would fill an important legal gap.

At present, the city’s ordinances do nothing to stop construction of a tar sands export facility. When Portland Pipe Line applied for an earlier city permit, the city could do nothing but grant it. That permit has since expired, but Portland Pipe Line easily could apply again. The Waterfront Protection Ordinance would close that loophole.

That protection is important to the people of South Portland and the other communities that surround and rely on Casco Bay. For ExxonMobil, however, it is unacceptable, and that is why the company is bankrolling the opposition to the ordinance.

The oil industry is no stranger to money politics, strong-arm tactics and deceptive arguments, and that playbook is in full swing here. The opponents now are peddling a claim that the ordinance will shut down not just tar sands, but also the entire Portland waterfront.

To lend an aura of credibility to that claim, opponents have produced a consultant’s report based on the false premise that the Waterfront Protection Ordinance would mean the end of the petroleum industry in South Portland. These arguments all serve a tactical purpose: Scare tactics and a parade of horribles are the only way for opponents to secure voter support. But the claims are simply false.

The Waterfront Protection Ordinance specifically notes the importance of existing waterfront activities and allows them all to continue. The Waterfront Protection Ordinance would not affect the pipeline’s current operations, nor the current operations of any other company whose principal business is receiving, storing and distributing oil or gasoline.

It does nothing to limit maintenance work or the repairing of machinery at existing businesses. It does not apply in any way to other businesses like yacht clubs, marinas or other non-petroleum businesses. Indeed, it only helps them by protecting them – and other property owners – from the negative impacts of a tar sands project, such as a tanker spill or toxic air pollution from large waterfront smokestacks.

And, if it passes, the ordinance will be implemented by South Portland citizens serving on the Planning Board and by city staff. The city has a long history of working constructively with its businesses, and there is no reason to expect that culture to change.

In South Portland and across the state, many people are working hard to build a future with a healthy economy and high quality of life. That future must, and will, continue to include a strong industrial base.

South Portland’s proximity to transportation systems, a port and a large workforce make it a place where industry will continue to thrive. But that future also must involve protecting our air and water, which are the foundation of Maine’s quality of life and our most valuable economic asset.

The Waterfront Protection Ordinance strikes a sensible balance between those goals, and we urge South Portland voters to vote “yes” on Nov. 5.

— Special to the Press Herald