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SOUTH PORTLAND — South Portland made history Monday night when the City Council voted 6-1 to pass a land-use ordinance meant to prevent the bulk loading of tar sands oil on the city’s waterfront.
It makes South Portland the first municipality in the country to ban tar sands, and sets a major regional and national precedent for grassroots community opposition to the Canadian tar sands industry’s expansion.
“The great little city of South Portland has a clear skies ordinance,” Mayor Jerry Jalbert announced after he cast the final vote just after 10:30 p.m.
In their meeting Monday at the South Portland Community Center, more than 300 people gathered and exchanged hugs when the council adopted the so-called “Clear Skies” ordinance, a collection of zoning amendments that would prohibit "the bulk loading of crude oil onto marine vessels" in specific city zones and the construction of any buildings or equipment associated with that use.
The ordinance's definition of "crude oil" encompasses tar sands, which is the common term for diluted bitumen, a thick form of crude oil mixed with clay and sand.
Opponents of allowing tar sands into the city say transportation of the corrosive oil would increase the possibility of a leak in the aging Montreal-Portland pipeline, and the 70 foot smokestacks necessary to accommodate the tar sands would intensify local air pollution and disrupt scenic views on the city’s waterfront.
It is a victory for environmental groups and concerned community members who have fought for a year to protect the city’s air quality from tar sands transportation, and significant blow to the local oil industry, specifically Portland Pipe Line Corp.
The CSO aims to prevent PPLC from reversing its existing pipeline to transport tar sands from Canada and load the product on ocean-going tankers in South Portland. The Montreal-Portland pipeline has historically transported crude oil into Canada.
PPLC representatives have said there are no plans to reverse the flow to transport tar sands, but reversing the existing pipeline from Montreal to the city waterfront could connect tar sands reserves in Alberta, Canada to refineries and international markets via the Atlantic coast.
Local oil industry representatives overwhelmingly oppose the CSO because they believe it limits their business expansion and could jeopardize waterfront jobs.
Sooner or later, the city expects legal challenges on this ordinance.
"The men and women of the Working Waterfront Coalition – whose livelihoods were treated as casual collateral damage throughout this process – will evaluate all political and legal means available to us to overturn this ordinance. The fight is not over,” Jamie Py, President of the Maine Energy Marketers Association, said in a statement released shortly after the vote Monday.