Opponents of the South Portland ballot proposal have outspent backers by almost 6 to 1.
The group representing oil-handling terminals and waterfront businesses in South Portland has spent more than $600,000 to defeat the controversial Waterfront Protection Ordinance, according to financial disclosure information filed Friday.
The huge sums of cash and in-kind donations flowing through the campaign are poised to make the local referendum among the costliest in Maine’s recent history.
“This is what it looks like for an industry to fight for its political life,” said Dan Demeritt, campaign manager for the Working Waterfront Coalition, the umbrella organization fighting the ordinance.
Meanwhile, three groups advocating for the ordinance’s passage – including Protect South Portland, the grassroots group that proposed the measure – together spent only $107,000.
The filings with the city of South Portland give a detailed account of fundraising and spending from Oct. 1 to Oct. 22, but also offer new totals for spending and contributions since the campaigns began.
The Waterfront Protection Ordinance is a proposed amendment to South Portland’s zoning code designed to prohibit oil terminals from handling Canadian tar sands oil by strictly defining the unloading of ships as an allowed use in the city’s shipyard zone for petroleum-handling facilities, and limiting the expansion of petroleum-handling facilities for new uses. The key issue in the referendum is whether a longtime South Portland business, the Portland Pipe Line Corp., will be allowed to reverse the flow of its 236-mile underground pipeline that connects it to refineries in Montreal.
Traditionally, tankers docked in South Portland would off-load crude oil for processing in Canada, but demand for that service has shrunk, leading Portland Pipe Line Corp. in 2009 to explore bringing in tar sands oil from Alberta.
The ordinance has been billed by its proponents as a narrowly tailored law to prevent the corrosive, dirty form of crude oil from being pumped through the city. They say a spill could cause an environmental disaster.
Opponents of the proposal, campaigning as the Working Waterfront Coalition, say it would have the unintended effect of broadly banning all oil-handling companies from upgrading equipment and changing their businesses to meet market demand. If the measure passes, the Working Waterfront Coalition believes, virtually all waterfront and oil-handling operations – including the massive tank farms that dot the city’s landscape – would go out of business.
Protect South Portland says that even if there was no spill, the substance poses a health risk because of the potent chemicals used to dilute the mixture and allow it to flow through the pipeline more easily, some of which would be burned off into the air during handling.
While Protect South Portland has relied more on volunteers, the Working Waterfront Coalition has spared no expense on the campaign.
The group’s $603,848 spending total includes $277,608 worth of in-kind donations, which account for staff time or services rendered by outside groups that are considered contributions. Working Waterfront Coalition has raised $115,000 in case, and spent $80,692.
The campaign has accrued $241,547 in outstanding debts, including a $123,427 bill from DDC Advocacy, a full-service, global campaign consultancy based in West Bethesda, Md. Demeritt was vague on the precise services DDC is providing.
“They’re a vendor that helps us with political outreach, political targeting,” he said.
Demerritt said he is confident the campaign will raise enough to pay off its debts, including a $30,000 reimbursement to Portland Pipe Line Corp., $30,266 for an Iowa company orchestrating direct mail, and $14,000 it still owes a Portland company for an economic study.
“This is an initiative that’s important to the entire industry in South Portland and we’re confident we’re going to get the support we need to win,” he said.
South Portland has long been an oil-handling port. Its six waterfront terminals have for decades received shipments of home heating oil, gasoline, jet fuel and other petroleum products, which are stored in massive tank farms on the city’s waterfront and in suburban neighborhoods before trucks distribute them around northern New England. The terminals also receive crude oil, which the pipeline pumps northwest to Montreal for processing.
In its raw form, the Canadian crude is a mixture of sticky petroleum, water and sand that at room temperature has the consistency of cold molasses. Although the oil sands’ existence has been known since the 1930s, the silty mixture proved too costly to refine until oil prices soared to record levels.
Though Portland Pipe Line Corp. says there is no current plan to bring the tar sands oil through South Portland, the project considered in 2009 would have added loading arms and two 70-foot-tall exhaust stacks to the Portland Pipe Line Corp.’s pier, which sits adjacent to Bug Light Park. The stacks, called vapor combustion units, would have burnt off gases associated with the loading of the diluted bitumen onto the tankers. Portland Pipe Line Corp. eventually declined to pursue the project, but a state environmental permit allowing the company to build the stacks lingered on the books, and was renewed in August 2012, leading many to believe the company’s plan was still active. The company surrendered the permit this month.
The financial underpinnings of the public fight over the ballot question hinge largely on in-kind donations, which account for a large portion of how the campaigns do business.
For the Working Waterfront Coalition, the leading sources of in-kind help were the American Petroleum Institute, at $27,025, the Portland Pipe Line Corp., at $22,219, and Sprague Operating Resources, at $9,502.
There were only three cash donations during the reporting period, from Citgo and Irving, which each donated $15,000 in cash, and Gulf Oil, which gave $10,000.
Spending included multiple advertisements in several newspapers, including payments to MaineToday Media LLC, which publishes the Portland Press Herald.
Other than Protect South Portland, two other committees that support the zoning measure filed spending reports: Save Bug Light, affiliated with Environment Maine, and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Protect South Portland has spent a total of $36,756 in cash and in-kind contributions. The group had $5,903 on hand as of Oct. 22. Its largest donor was the Natural Resource Council of Maine, which has kicked in $27,000 so far. Unitemized contributions in the period accounted for $2,148. The next largest single donation, $1,000, came from Curt Jensch of South Portland. Three people tied for the third-largest contribution – $485: Nancy Anderson of Cumberland, John Given of Los Angeles, and Wyatt Garfield of Portland.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine’s ballot committee has spent a total $50,056 on direct and in-kind support for Protect South Portland.
The Save Bug Light committee has spent $21,750, mostly from in-kind donations totaling $17,419.
Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: