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Maine Oil Dealers Vow to Fight Tar Sands Measure, as Supporters Rally
07/25/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

Environmental activists are rallying in Portland this evening to denounce what they describe as "oil industry efforts to pump tar sands oil through the Sebago Lake watershed to Portland harbor for export." It's the second time in less than a week that protestors have gathered to oppose the prospect of tar sands coming into Portland, even though there is no current plan to do so. Tom Porter reports.

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Dylan Voorhees is clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, one of the event's organizers. He says the rally is being held to coincide with the anniversary of a Michigan disaster.

"Three years ago to this day, there was a massive tar sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo River," Voorhees says. "And so we are gathering together with citizens to comemmorate that and to reiterate the message that we can't afford to have tar sands coming through our state.

Voorhees says that spill has cost more than $1 billion in cleanup expenses, so far. And while he acknowledges that the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line Company has no current plan to move tar sands oil through its existing pipeline in Maine, he says he's preparing for that possibility.

Currently, there is no permitting requirement at the state level, and Voorhees wants to ensure there will be a full environmental review.

"We're, in fact, worried, even ahead of a formal announcement, that there needs to be a process in place to consider the environmental risks," Voorhees says.

The NRCM is also putting its weight behind a proposed South Portland ordinance. "It would stop tar sands oil from coming in to South Portland," says South Portland resident Roberta Zuckerman.

Zuckerman says she's working to get it passed because she's afraid of an environmental disaster. "I don't want South Portland to become the next Kalamazoo River," she says.

But Maine's oil dealers have a problem with the ordinance. Earlier this week a committee formed by the Maine Energy Marketers Association declared it will mount a formal campaign against the Waterfront Protection Ordinance, as it's called.

Attorney Matt Manahan, who represents the committee, says the measure goes way beyond the simple aim of stopping tar sands from traveling east along the pipeline. "Well, the ordinance is extremely broad," he says.

He says everything we've heard from its proponents suggests the ordinance applies only to oil sands.

"But the language of the ordinance is much, much broader than that, and would essentially prohibit all petroleum-handling operations in the shipyard district, and in the shoreland zone of the commercial district, which is the first 250 feet from the water," Manahan says. "And that would have very broad implications on any facility that handles petroleum in South Portland."

He says the proposal effectively outlaws all activities apart from the unloading of oil from tankers into the pipeline, something that would prevent existing facilities from carrying out upgrades, and that could potentially shut down the South Portland marina, as it would prevent re-fueling activities.

Jamie Py is president of the Maine Energy Marketers Association. He says if enacted, the ordinance could lead to higher oil prices and put more trucks on the road.

"We're hoping to educate the people of South Portland to the effects that this ordinance would have on the jobs, on the activities, and, really, the viability of these fine businesses in the port of South Portland," Py says. "And hopefully, folks will understand that this ordinance, because it is so overbroad, would end up shutting these businesses down."

Supporters of the ordinance, meanwhile, insist that it's carefully tailored to meet the needs of the community. Last month they turned in a petition containing more than 3,700 signatures, ensuring the question will be put before the city's voters on this November's ballot - that's if the City Council doesn't approve the ordinance first.

Tonight's rally gets underway at 6:00 p.m. outside the headquarters of the Portland Water District.

File photo: Susan Sharon

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