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The South Portland City Council on Wednesday night voted 6-1 (Michael Pock opposed) to approve a first reading of an ordinance that would prohibit tar-sands from flowing into the city.
The ordinance now heads to the Planning Board and is expected to return to the council for a second and final reading July 21.
Wednesday's vote was originally scheduled for Monday night, July 7, but was postponed due to overflowing crowds at South Portland City Hall. It was moved to the South Portland Community Center gym to accommodate crowds, which included activists on both sides of the contentious issue.
Wednesday's result was not unexpected. During a special workshop held two weeks ago, councilors signaled their support for the new rules, unofficially dubbed the Clear Skies Ordinance by those aiming to ban tar sands.
In addition, Mayor Gerard Jalbert said he wanted to enact the tar-sands ban well in advance of November, when the city’s moratorium on any new development project involving the Canadian oil product is scheduled to expire.
If the City Council approves the tar-sands ban, the issue could be challenged in court, opponents of the ordinance have stated.
Under the proposal now on the table, South Portland would prohibit both the “bulk loading of crude oil onto marine tank vessels,” and the “construction, installation and operation of related facilities, structures or equipment,” according to the draft ordinance.
The Draft Ordinance Committee, which spent months coming up with a proposal, has said that South Portland, under its home rule authority, has the right to protect the health and welfare of its residents while also promoting future development that is more consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.
The committee found that allowing the import or export of tar sands would be inconsistent with the city’s vision for the future, which under the comprehensive plan includes a mixed use waterfront, as well as a “green city” that is a desirable place to live.
Tar sands, also referred to as oil sands or diluted bitumen, is a combination of clay, sand, water and bitumen, which is a heavy, black and viscous type of oil.
While the Portland Pipeline Corp. in South Portland has said it has no plans to import tar sands from Canada, a vote by a key Canadian board this spring to reverse the flow of pipelines in that country puts tar sands “on New England’s doorstep,” according to members of the group Protect South Portland, which has turned out by the hundreds for recent meetings.
In coming up with its tar-sands recommendations, the Draft Ordinance Committee has also suggested that South Portland look into regulating air quality locally, among a variety of other steps designed to better protect the city from any further, unwanted oil industry development.