February 17, 2013

Environmentalists take tar sands oil pipeline fight to town halls

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

RAYMOND — Code Enforcement Officer Chris Hanson eyed the door of the selectmen’s chambers every time it opened, counting each person who came into the room — something he doesn’t often have to do.

click image to enlarge

People march to the Maine State Pier in Portland on Jan. 26 to attend a rally protesting the use of the Portland to Montreal pipeline to send tar sands crude oil to Casco Bay.

Portland Press Herald file photo by Gregory Rec

The room was nine people short of capacity just before the start of the meeting Tuesday evening, when it would become the latest battleground for the Portland Pipe Line Corp. and environmentalists trying to prevent the company from carrying so-called tar sands oil through the Sebago Lake watershed.

The owner of the Portland-to-Montreal pipeline hasn’t come forward with plans to start transporting the heavy form of petroleum from Canada, but admits that it might want to in the future.

Activists, who claim tar sands oil is more harmful to the environment than the crude oil that now runs through the pipeline, are trying to get the attention of the U.S. Department of State, and ultimately President Barack Obama, to tighten regulations governing a potential project.

Last week, however, they focused on the Raymond Board of Selectmen.

The cities and towns along the pipeline have become part of a multinational battle about the use of vast tar sands oil deposits in the Canadian province of Alberta.

Environmentalists, including many who say development of the oil will accelerate global climate change, are trying to prevent any use of pipelines in Maine and elsewhere to export the oil.

Since the summer, representatives from advocacy groups Environment Maine and the Natural Resources Council of Maine have held forums at public libraries and meetings with elected officials from the 12 communities along the pipeline’s path, stretching from Portland Harbor to the Canadian border.

More recently, a formal resolution has surfaced in front of boards of selectmen and town and city councils that local residents — with the support of the statewide environmental groups — are asking their towns and cities to adopt in opposition to tar sands oil flowing through Maine.

In Casco, the resolution was put on the agenda of a special townwide meeting Jan. 12, and all but a few of the 50-some residents in attendance raised their hands in favor of adopting it.

Although pipeline company executives were aware of the vote, they didn’t attend the town meeting, Town Manager David Morton said; but, when the resolution landed on a town meeting warrant a few weeks later in Bethel, they decided they wanted a say.

Company officials, along with the executive director of the New England Petroleum Council and a representative of the Canadian Consulate in Boston, showed up at the Jan. 30 special town meeting; but the question was called before they got a chance to speak, and the resolution was adopted with overwhelming support, according to The Bethel Citizen.

“It all happened very fast,” Town Manager Jim Doar said. “I’m not sure it’s been something that’s been widely discussed, and I think we will probably revisit it.”

The resolution is on the warrant for town meetings on March 2 in Waterford and June 11 in Harrison, where “it’s probably the biggest thing ... that’s going to bring voters out,” Town Manager Bud Finch said.

Discussions commence

Larger towns and cities along the pipeline haven’t been as quick to vote on the resolution.

The Windham Town Council heard a presentation from Environment Maine at a special meeting Jan. 29. Representatives from Portland Pipe Line showed up at the meeting and offered another perspective on the project during the public comment period.

The council has talked about having the pipeline company come back to give its own, more formal presentation, but a meeting hasn’t been scheduled, Town Manager Tony Plante said.

(Continued on page 2)

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