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Small Town Declares All-Out Offensive Against Tar Sands Port

Despite threats of legal action, South Portland, Maine vows to continue their fight against Big Oil in pipeline fight

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

A sign erected by the grassroots group Protect South Portland. (Photo: 350maine.org)Following Big Oil's narrow victory over a grassroots initiative designed to block the construction of a tar sands export terminal, residents of South Portland, Maine are attempting to overrule that vote with a bid to outlaw the flow and processing of tar sands within city borders.

On Wednesday evening, members of the South Portland City Council voted unanimously to create a Draft Ordinance Committee with the explicit purpose of creating a new land-use rule to "prevent the flow and processing of unrefined tar sands in South Portland,” local media reports.

“It’s very pleasing to see all of us this evening take a stand that we do not want tar sands in our community and that we will not let it happen,” said Councilor Tom Blake.

Formal votes to make appointments to the committee and establish a working budget won't take place until the council’s Jan. 6 meeting. In the meantime, however, the city will vote on Dec. 16 to adopt a moratorium on any construction that would enable the transport of tar sands via the South Portland harbor.

"[Big Oil] has come out of the shadows. They’ve really declared an all-out offensive against the citizens of South Portland.” -Rob Sellin, Protect South Portland

The moratorium is expected to pass "handily."

Earlier this month, in response to news of the pending moratorium, a letter drafted by a lawyer with the American Petroleum Institute (API) to members of the city council threatened the moratorium “would have strong legal challenges” if passed. It claims the ruling would be an unconstitutional attempt to regulate interstate commerce.

In November, the Waterfront Protection Ordinance (or WPO)—a measure to prevent the use of the South Portland harbor as a potential location for an alternate tar sands pipeline—was defeated by a scant 192 votes after a coalition of oil giants including Citgo, Irving, and the API dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign against the legislation.

Ahead of the November vote, the oil industry made repeated claims that the WPO was premature, saying there was "no proposal to reverse the flow of the Portland-Montreal pipeline" to allow for the transport of tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to overseas markets.

Despite this, on Dec. 6 a Quebec National Assembly committee voted to reverse the flow of Enbridge's Line 9B pipeline from Alberta to Quebec, a move widely seen by many as the first step in transporting tar sands from Alberta to South Portland.

“Even though Portland Pipe Line Corp. says it has no tar-sands plan, tar sands is on its way,” said South Portland resident Crystal Goodrich.

“They’ve really come out of the shadows,” added Rob Sellin, co-founder of the group Protect South Portland. “They’ve really declared an all-out offensive against the citizens of South Portland and our elected officials.”

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