SOUTH PORTLAND – The South Portland City Council on Monday killed a proposal to amend city ordinances to allow consumption of alcohol on public property at special events licensed by a super-majority vote of the council.

The proposal was part of an effort by South Portland Buy Local to revive the old Spring Point Festival, which ran on the city’s east end for more than 20 years, beginning in the mid-1980s. According to Buy Local President April Cohen-Tracy, the plan is to gather many of the group’s 200 members in Bug Light Park on Aug. 17 to share their wares. Among those planning to attend is Sea Dog Brewing, which asked to put up a “beer garden.”

City ordinances ban possession or consumption of alcohol on “any park, beach pond or other recreational property owned by the city.” Opposition to Sea Dog’s proposal has been led by former Councilor Maxine Beecher, who in 2003 collected more than 1,000 signatures to defeat an ordinance change that would have allowed beer sales on the Wainwright Field complex to support a “Baystock” fundraiser for the United Way of Greater Portland.

Although supporters said the Buy Local festival will be a family event, with certified bartenders and limited beer consumption – on par, said South Portland/Cape Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce president Mike Vaillancourt, with a typical Sea Dogs baseball game – others said the risks are too great.

“We support Buy Local,” said Pamela Koonz Canarie of Sawyer Street, “but think of the children who come from homes with active alcoholism. Please let them not have to the people who are in their lives consuming alcohol while they are in our parks. Please give them a break.”

Councilor Linda Cohen spoke compellingly of growing up in a household with alcoholics, but said that disavowing a festival similar to many held in Portland would be allowing alcohol to still control lives.

“We’re not Portland and no one I know wants us to be,” said Beecher, saying she was proud to have served on the council when it banned tobacco products from public parks and beaches.

For several minutes the council appeared deadlocked on the issue. Cohen, Councilor Patti Smith and Mayor Tom Blake favored the ordinance change, while councilors Michael Pock, Alan Livingston and Melissa Linscott opposed.

With Councilor Gerard Jalbert on the fence, saying that while he was leaning against the ordinance, even though he supports Buy Local and Sea Dog Brewing, he was willing to remain open to debate, Blake seemed uncertain how to proceed.

As Cohen pointed out, even if the council could get the majority vote to change the ordinance at its next meeting, it seemed doubtful it could ever muster the super-majority needed to issue a license. Even councilors in favor of the ordinance update, such as Smith, were unwilling to strike the super-majority requirement, due to the sea change the new rules would bring to how South Portland handles public festivals and events.

Finally, after at first refusing to telegraph his vote, Jalbert broke the ice.

“Let me remove the pain,” he said. “I would not support this.”


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