Portland Press Herald
Leslie Bridgers

South Portland plans to solicit donations from U.S. and Canadian environmental groups to help cover the cost of an anticipated legal battle with members of the oil industry in response to the City Council vote Monday to prevent the export of tar sands oil from its port.

South Portland Mayor Jerry Jalbert talked about the plan Tuesday in a conference call with members of the media.

National environmental leader, Bill McKibben, who was also on the call, said he believes conservation groups will come to the city’s aid.

“I think they’ll find wide support,” he said.

The conference call was one of two press events held by environmental groups Tuesday in celebration of the City Council’s vote the night before.

About a dozen South Portland residents and environmentalists gathered on the Maine State Pier in Portland Tuesday morning to talk about the impacts of the vote.

They said the successful effort by citizens of South Portland to prevent the export of tar sands oil from their city should provide guidance – and hope – to other communities in the United States and Canada fighting against the oil industry.

An executive of the Portland Pipe Line Corp., on the other hand, called the city’s action biased and slanted and suggested the fight is not yet over in a statement released after the vote Monday night.

The Portland Pipe Line operates an underground oil pipeline from South Portland to Montreal and in the past had sought city permission to use its pipeline to export the Canadian crude.

Leaders from state conservation groups applauded the residents for using the democratic process to overcome the deep pockets of the oil industry.

“To watch them believe they can make a difference was absolutely overwhelming,” said Sarah Lachance of 350 Maine, who lauded their persistence with “potluck after potluck after potluck after potluck.”

Andy Jones of the Toxics Action Center called the grassroots effort “some of the most impressive citizen action the state of Maine has ever seen.”

Taryn Hallweaver of Environment Maine said the citizens’ victory “over the biggest industry in the entire world” will send a message to other cities concerned about tar sands that they have a say in the future of their community.

“It’s not OK for South Portland. It’s not OK for Nebraska or Alberta,” she said.

Mary-Jane Ferrier of Protect South Portland, the citizens group that organized in support of the ordinance, said the group will stay organized and fight any legal or political opposition to the zoning ordinance.

“We’re not going away,” she said.

Portland Pipe Line Vice President Tom Hardison issued a statement late Monday that clearly indicated the conflict is not yet settled.

“Tonight’s vote against jobs, energy and the waterfront is the culmination of a rush to judgment led by councilors over the past several months that has ignored plain science in favor of fear, promoted by a vocal group of off-oil extremists,” his statement said. The company is evaluating “several options concerning this job-killing ordinance,” he said.