AUGUSTA — It is the mission of the Maine Port Authority to improve the global competitiveness of businesses in Maine by supporting the improvement of their transportation networks. We do this, in part, by supporting the development of marine, rail and other facilities for the intermodal movement of cargo.

Limiting the ability of companies to develop, improve and maintain marine and other facilities in a responsible fashion represents a threat to the competitiveness, and even the viability, of those businesses.

Consistent with its mission, the Board of Directors of the Maine Port Authority took the unusual step earlier this month of unanimously voting to oppose a proposed local ordinance, South Portland’s Waterfront Protection Ordinance.

The board believes that the ordinance, as written, poses a significant threat to the viability of South Portland’s working waterfront and a threat to the vitality of the Port of Portland overall.

The port authority opposes the ordinance for five principal reasons:

Its broad scope: The language in the ordinance reads that “there shall be no enlargement or expansion of existing petroleum storage tank farms and accessory piers, pumping and distribution facilities, or facilities for the storing and handling of petroleum and/or petroleum products in the Shipyard District or within the Shoreland Area of any Commercial District.” The ordinance applies to South Portland’s entire working waterfront, affecting all of its petroleum terminals and marinas.

Its sweeping prohibitions: The ordinance indicates that “expansion, as used in this section includes, but is not limited to, construction, reconstruction or alteration of any existing facility to change the function or capacity of such facilities; construction of any new combustion units, stacks, vapor recovery systems, equipment, structure, or machinery for transportation or storage of petroleum, including any pumping, distribution or other facility for loading tankers or other ships instead of unloading ships.”

The port authority believes that that the language in this section of the ordinance would prohibit activities to improve terminals that handle petroleum and petroleum products, including maintenance necessary for maintaining equipment and facilities.

Further, it prohibits activities that may be required to respond to changes in the market conditions. For example, the Maine Port Authority is in the process of designing an innovative vessel for moving freight between Portland and New York.

As a part of the design process, we are looking at the possibility of using alternative fuels to power the vessel, such as biodiesel and liquefied natural gas. Any changes that terminals might need to make to accommodate these fuels for the purpose of bunkering the vessel would be prohibited under this ordinance.

Its retroactivity: The “ordinance shall apply to any proceeding pending at the time of its enactment, unless such a proceeding was commenced before May 1, 2013. Any permit or approval issued or rendered by the City after May 1, 2013 purporting to authorize any use or structure prohibited or regulated hereby shall be rendered null and void upon enactment of this Ordinance.”

Businesses require a stable and predictable regulatory environment to survive. If the rules under which investments are made can be changed at any time for any reason, such investments will not be made. Over time, the viability of the business will be threatened in this environment.

Its non-reviewability: The ordinance states that “this Ordinance is not required to be reviewed by the South Portland Planning Board prior to enactment, and shall control over any other procedural or substantive provisions of any conflicting ordinance of the City of South Portland.”

The South Portland Planning Board has already ruled that the ordinance is inconsistent with its Comprehensive Plan. This ordinance throws the city’s planning processes into question.

Finally, there is the potential for the ordinance to be precedent-setting. The ordinance prohibits highly regulated waterfront businesses from undertaking legitimate activities to maintain and improve their facilities. Any legitimate business activity could be prohibited in this manner.

For these reasons, the Maine Port Authority opposes the proposed ordinance. We encourage others with an interest in the future of the Port of Portland, and in maritime commerce in general, to join us in our opposition.

— Special to the Press Herald