January 14

South Portland council to pick oil sands committee members

Three people and a facilitator will help craft a local ordinance barring the handling of oil sands in South Portland.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The South Portland City Council on Monday began evaluating candidates for a committee that will help craft an ordinance to ban the handling of oil sands in the city.

A dozen people applied for three slots on the ordinance-writing panel. Half of them hail from South Portland. They are Michael J. Conathan, David Critchfield, Karen Lewis, Ebon Rose, Peter Stanton and Carol Thorne. Three hail from Portland: Orlando E. Delogu, Russel B. Pierce Jr. and Eliot H. Stanley. The other candidates are Carly M. Andersen of Biddeford; Malcolm Poole of Scarborough, who owns a business in South Portland; and Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth.

City councilors are expected to make a final selection of committee members on Jan. 22.

To determine who makes the cut, councilors will develop criteria for grading the candidates’ qualifications.

Meanwhile, a second component of the ordinance-writing process is moving forward. The city received five responses in its search for a facilitator to help the committee complete its work. The facilitator candidates are Edelstein Associates, Good Group Decisions, Susan Gallant, Nicholas Bournakel and Orlando Delogu.

The city manager, along with the city’s finance director and assistant city manager, graded the responses of the facilitator candidates, including each party’s qualifications for the job. Although each response was scored, the City Council will have final say over which person or firm will be employed to assist the committee.

Petroleum companies with interests in South Portland have objected to the process, saying they have been excluded, and one industry group has nearly threatened legal action.

The future of oil-handling in South Portland was the major issue in local elections in November and has remained a divisive topic in local politics since then.

Voters in South Portland were asked to vote up or down on a controversial ordinance designed to bar so-called tar sands, also known as oil sands, from being handled through the city’s port. Oil sands are a mixture of sand, sticky raw petroleum, and water.

The debate was sparked by residents who submitted thousands of signatures advocating for the passage of the ordinance. Critics, especially those connected to the waterfront and backed by national petroleum interests, said the ordinance would have unintended consequences, such as preventing future development along the city’s port and forcing the closure of local businesses.

After the ordinance failed in a narrow vote, the City Council passed a development moratorium, buying the city time to craft a permanent ordinance banning the substance.

Traditionally, oil tankers have offloaded their cargo in South Portland, either for use locally or to be shipped elsewhere. Since the 1940s, the Portland Pipe Line Corp. has pumped crude oil from its terminals in South Portland through a 236-mile underground pipeline that leads to refineries in Montreal. But the need for that service has waned in recent years, leading the pipeline corporation to explore reversing the flow.

In such a scenario, South Portland would become an export terminal for oil sands from Alberta. The provincial government estimates there are about 170 billion proven barrels of the crude waiting to be extracted.

But detractors of the substance say it is costly and inefficient to mine, dangerous to ship through pipelines, and accelerates global warming because it is difficult to use to manufacture salable products. Locally, critics say chemicals burned off during the handling of tar sands oil are harmful to breathe and that a spill in nearby Casco Bay or in Sebago Lake would trigger an ecological disaster.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at mbyrne@pressherald.com

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