SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday postponed action on a proposal that would block tar sands oil from coming into the city because City Hall couldn’t accommodate an overcapacity turnout of supporters and opponents.
The proposal from the Draft Ordinance Committee will be taken up at 7 p.m. Wednesday at a location to be determined.
About 200 people crowded into City Hall, with more people gathered outside the building. The council chamber exceeded its 100-person limit a half-hour before the meeting was scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
Mayor Gerry Jalbert asked nonresidents to give up their seats to residents and offered an opportunity to watch the meeting on television in a nearby conference room. But that did little to alleviate the standing-room-only turnout.
“We cannot hold this meeting this evening,” Jalbert announced around 7:30 p.m. “This is a life safety issue. I wish City Hall was bigger right now.”
Councilors said their meetings rarely draw such a turnout.
What was to be the council’s first vote on the ordinance committee’s proposal attracted many supporters wearing light blue “clear skies” T-shirts and many opponents wearing red T-shirts touting “American Energy” and “SoPo Jobs.”
The proposal would prohibit loading crude oil in bulk onto marine tank vessels and building or expanding terminals and other facilities for that purpose. The proposal has a much narrower scope than the Waterfront Protection Ordinance that city voters rejected last November.
The ordinance committee’s report said that loading crude oil onto a ship could increase air pollution and that the vapor combustion facilities needed to mitigate the problem would have a negative visual impact on the waterfront.
Tar sands, also known as oil sands, are a mixture of sand, sticky raw petroleum, and water. Environmental groups involved in the “clear skies” campaign say tar sands oil is more dangerous to ship through pipelines and more difficult to clean up if spilled.
The Working Waterfront Coalition, including oil companies and the Portland Pipe Line Corp., dispute those claims, saying that the proposal is unjustified, would constrain terminal development and threatens local jobs.
The Waterfront Protection Ordinance was a citizens initiative that also was designed to prevent Portland Pipe Line from bringing tar sands oil into the city from Canada in an underground pipeline that now carries crude from South Portland to Montreal.
In addition to blocking tar sands oil, the defeated ordinance also would have prohibited expansion of petroleum-related facilities on the waterfront, which many argued would have had an adverse effect on many other waterfront businesses.
Residents rejected that proposal by fewer than 200 votes, leading the council to conclude that the community had strong concerns about tar sands oil.
The council enacted a moratorium on tar sands-related development and created a committee to address the issue through ordinance amendments. That committee met 19 times for about 60 hours total.
Committee members say the new proposal wouldn’t impact current uses or the handling of gasoline, diesel, biodiesel, ethanol, kerosene, No. 2 fuel oil, jet fuel, aviation gasoline, home heating oil, asphalt, distillate, waste oil, lubricants, or other refined petroleum products.
The council is scheduled to take an initial vote on the proposal Wednesday, followed by a Planning Board review July 15 and a final vote by the council July 21.
Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: