SOUTH PORTLAND — The city’s ongoing federal court battle with the Portland Pipe Line Corp. over a crude oil export ban is a defining issue in the two-way race for the District 2 City Council seat on Nov. 7.

Christopher Breen and Kate Lewis are competing for a seat that’s being vacated by Councilor Patti Smith, who has served as mayor this year and will be termed out of office. In other council races, incumbent Claude Morgan is running unopposed for the District 1 seat and Planning Board member Adrian Dowling is running unopposed for the District 5 seat.

All council members are elected by voters citywide. Residents may vote now through Nov. 2 at City Hall during regular office hours, or on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at one of four polling places.

Breen and Lewis have vastly different views of the so-called Clear Skies ordinance, which banned oil exports from South Portland’s waterfront and effectively blocked the pipeline company from reversing its flow to bring Canadian crude to its terminals on Portland Harbor.

The council passed the ordinance in 2014, right after city voters narrowly rejected the similar Waterfront Protection Ordinance, which aimed to keep controversial tar sands oil from flowing through South Portland.

The next year, the pipeline company filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Portland, claiming the ban is unconstitutional because it interferes with interstate trade, discriminates against Canadian interests, devalues the pipeline and infringes on areas of regulation that should be left to the federal government.

So far, the city has spent $1.35 million on its Clear Skies legal defense, trying to show that the company’s claim is groundless because it had no plan to reverse the pipeline’s flow when the council passed the ordinance “to protect the health and welfare of (city) residents and visitors and traditional land use authority to promote future development consistent with the comprehensive plan,” according to court documents.

Breen said he opposes the Clear Skies ordinance and the money that’s being spent to defend it. He believes the council violated the will of the voters when it approved the ban.

“It was clearly known that there was going to be a lawsuit when the council approved the Clear Skies ordinance,” said Breen, 47. “The majority of citizens don’t want to be participating in this endless lawsuit.”

Breen, a supermarket sales analyst and buyer, acknowledged that he probably would be a lone voice on a seven-member council that has been publicly unanimous in supporting and defending the ordinance, at least for the time being. Still, he said, he would help to bring a more balanced view to the issue.

“I think people want tar sands (oil),” Breen said. “The council went against the will of the people when they approved the Clear Skies ordinance.”

Lewis called the Clear Skies ordinance a “strong product of work” that deserves the city’s best defense against the pipeline company’s lawsuit.

“The city did the right thing in defending itself,” said Lewis, 41. “I understand people are concerned about costs, and we need to be mindful of that, but the costs to date seem to be an appropriate investment (as a portion of) the city’s budget and financial resources.”

Lewis, a nonprofit development director, declined to speak in detail about the lawsuit or say whether she would support fighting it in the future. Like Breen, she noted that she doesn’t know what the city’s lawyers have told councilors in closed-door sessions.

“I don’t know the strategy that’s being pursued,” Lewis said. “I’ll really need to understand what the best course of action is to attain the same public health and environmental protection that was intended by the Clear Skies ordinance.”

Lewis said she’s running because the council is facing decisions that will have local and global effects for decades, especially related to development and quality of life issues. She supports preservation of public open spaces; economic development that attracts healthy industries, local businesses and living-wage jobs; and quality schools leading to lifelong success for kids.

Breen said his top reason for running is to protect the environment for his children and other citizens, which is why he supports the city’s pesticide ordinance and watershed protection. He would seek ways to help older residents cope with rising property taxes and he would recommend creating a municipal position to help people find treatment for opioid addiction, in addition to the behavioral health liaison who was recently hired in the police department.

Both candidates described retail marijuana operations, which would be allowed under a pending state law, as economic opportunities that should be regulated like alcohol. Both also said more should be done to preserve and develop affordable housing, but while Breen said he opposed rent control, Lewis said she would “explore” a policy linking rent increases to property values and the cost of living.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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