Kate Irish Collins

SOUTH PORTLAND - In an effort to remind people what it’s fighting for, the group Protect South Portland, which wants to keep tar-sands oil exports out of the city, held a special event last week to mark the one-year anniversary of the tar-sands oil spill in Mayflower, Ark.

The spill occurred on March 29, 2013, when an aging pipeline owned by Exxon ruptured and sent 210,000 gallons of tar-sands oil into the neighborhoods and waterways of the small southern town. 

The guest speaker at last week’s event was Genieve Long, a lifelong resident of Mayflower who lives with her four children and fiancé in one of the neighborhoods affected by the tar-sands spill. 

“Before March 29, 2013, Mayflower was a quiet, strong, close-knit community,” Long said. “But Mayflower has been ravaged by tar sands. Our land will be damaged for years to come, people’s homes have been demolished, houses are for sale, health issues have skyrocketed, our wetlands have been ruined (and) I am devastated to know our town will never be the same again.”

Mary-Jane Ferrier, of Protect South Portland, said the anniversary of the Mayflower spill is another reminder of the major risk that tar-sands oil poses. 

“We don’t want to become another Mayflower,” she said. “If tar-sands oil is allowed to come through, South Portland residents will shoulder all the risk while the oil corporations will reap the benefits. We get the risk, they get rich.”

Ted Reiner and Greg Griffen, both Casco Bay lobstermen, also spoke at the March 28 Protect South Portland event. They each expressed deep concern at the possibility of a tar sands spill into Casco Bay, which provides $450 million in revenue annually from lobstering, fishing, tourism and recreation. 

What’s even more troubling, according to the group Environment Maine, is that the Mayflower anniversary comes on the heels of a recent oil spill into Lake Michigan at the BP Whiting Refinery, which has been retrofitted to process tar-sands oil. 

In terms of the effort to keep tar sands out of South Portland, Taryn Hallweaver, campaign director with Environment Maine, said “The (Portland-Montreal Pipeline) is too old to carry tar sands, and the devastating consequences of a spill are too high to risk. Maybe the oil industry is willing to roll the dice on Sebago Lake and Casco Bay, but we sure as heck aren’t.”