Politics

October 26, 2013

Oil interests spend $600,000 in South Portland campaign

The dueling campaigns over the Waterfront Protection Ordinance are on track to be among the most costly local referendums in recent history.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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