October 16, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Oil guys pollute S. Portland waterfront debate

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com

(Continued from page 1)

The powers that be – including a 4-2 majority on the Planning Board and a five-member City Council majority – argue that the Waterfront Protection Ordinance, as written, conflicts with the city’s comprehensive plan.

In a letter they magically produced this week without holding a single meeting as defined by Maine’s Freedom of Access law, the five city councilors went on to warn that the ordinance “can have a negative effect on our working waterfront.”

Not so, argue four Maine attorneys who specialize in environmental law and wrote a letter last week to Mayor Tom Blake and the City Council on behalf of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

“Suggesting that the ordinance would have broad negative impacts on existing waterfront businesses is an exaggeration and not credible,” wrote Russell Pierce, Jr., Philip Bartlett II, Jeffrey Pidot and Orlando Delogu. “Petroleum businesses whose primary use relates to unloading petroleum from boats will continue to enjoy the existing uses that are permitted right now.”

Back to the slippery side – represented this time by Burt Russell, vice president of operations for Sprague Energy.

Russell, whose company owns and operates a petroleum-products terminal in South Portland, said in an interview Tuesday that Sprague has already “canceled” a half-finished, $1.5 million pipeline upgrade for fear that the ordinance, if passed, would render it illegal.

Two nits worth picking here:

First, nothing Sprague does involves the loading of vessels in Portland Harbor. Thus, its decision to scrap the project appears at best to be an overreaction to a proposed ordinance that prohibits no such thing – and at worst another one of those slick scare tactics aimed at getting out the “no” vote.

Second, when pressed on his use of the word “canceled,” Russell backtracked to “suspended pending the November vote.” (“I guess it’s semantics,” he said.)

Color me skeptical, but I’ll bet that new Sprague pipeline gets finished no matter what happens two weeks from Tuesday.

The point here, good citizens of South Portland, is that the oil guys are asking you to buy something that’s as far from the truth as those Alberta tar sands are from Bug Light.

The truth is that South Portland is, was and will continue to be a major offloading point for heating oil, gasoline and other petroleum products for two obvious reasons: It has the infrastructure, and it sits on one of the best deep-water harbors on the East Coast.

All of which will go “poof” in just “a few years,” as Demeritt puts it, over a zoning law that has nothing to do with those decades-old investments?

Don’t look now, folks, but slick just dissolved into stupid.

This story was updated at 12:11 p.m. to correct the type of oil, crude, that might someday stop pumping to Montreal.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:


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