So. Portland Residents Far Exceed Signature Requirement for Tar Sands Initiative

South Portland, Maine—At a news conference this morning outside of City Hall, Concerned Citizens of South Portland delivered 3,779 signatures—four-times the number of signatures needed—to the South Portland City Clerk to qualify their Waterfront Protection Initiative for the November ballot. The signatures were collected in 11 days.

The citizen’s initiative would change South Portland’s zoning ordinance to block the oil industry from constructing two 70-foot smokestacks on the pier next to Bug Light and other oil infrastructure in order to export toxic tar sands out of Casco Bay. The initiative was developed to protect air quality, public health, property values, and a sustainable economy for the city.

“Just 11 days ago, we set out to collect signatures from approximately 950 South Portland residents in support of the initiative,” said Carol Masterson, a member of the Concerned Citizens of South Portland. “Today, we’re delivering 3,779 signatures to City Hall, which is four times the required number! I have seen so clearly in the last week and a half that when people come together, amazing things can happen. Together, we can stop the tar sands smokestacks next to Bug Light and protect our community.”

More than 125 people collected signatures in the last 11 days, with some collecting more than 100 signatures.

At the news conference, South Portland Mayor Tom Blake, as a private citizen, and his wife Edrie signed the petition, adding the two final signatures. Dozens of citizens at the event held signs and posters supporting the initiative.

“Many residents have worked hard to chart a plan for a sustainable, prosperous future for South Portland,” said South Portland Mayor Tom Blake. “Tar sands and the related industrial development planned here are not consistent with these efforts. Smokestacks and toxic air pollution should not be part of our plan for a healthy future. These are some of the reasons we are supporting the Waterfront Protection Ordinance.”

South Portland’s Comprehensive Plan, approved in October 2012, was developed with broad input and support from residents across the city. The plan envisions transitioning the Shipyard area, where the tar sands smokestacks would be built, to a mixed-use area that protects traditional marine uses while accommodating recreational, business, and residential uses.

“While collecting signatures, I have experienced a groundswell of support – young new voters, working people, parents and seniors who are coming together around this issue,” said Roberta Zuckerman, a member of the Concerned Citizens of South Portland. “I feel proud to be part of a community that is committed to protecting the health, economic viability and beauty of our community. In just 11 short days, we have accomplished so much. There is strong support in South Portland for this Waterfront Protection Ordinance.”

“I became deeply concerned about the threats to my community and wanted to sign the petition right away,” said Sydney Damian-Loring, a 20-year-old South Portland resident. “Because this issue is so important, I volunteered to help the Concerned Citizens of South Portland gather signatures, and over the last 11 days I found overwhelming support from neighborhoods across the city. We will not let Big Oil drag us backwards—I am counting on a future that has clean air and clean water.”

Portland Pipeline Corp. CEO Larry Wilson told the Vermont Legislature earlier this year that his company is “aggressively looking at every opportunity” to pump oil from Montreal to South Portland via its 63-year-old pipeline. ExxonMobil is the majority owner of the Portland-Montreal pipeline.

The proposed smokestacks, the tallest in South Portland, would be built between Bug Light and Spring Point Ledge Lighthouses. The smokestacks would be a new source of local air pollution, and they would damage the beauty of the South Portland coastline, since they would be highly visible from Bug Light, Willard Beach, SMCC and elsewhere.

“When I heard about ExxonMobil’s plans to build 70-foot smokestacks in our community in order to export tar sands, I knew immediate action was needed to stop this threatening project,” said Bill Duffy of South Portland. “Although not surprised, I am heartened that so many in our community took the first stand against this risky tar sands project. In just 11 days, we far exceeded the signature requirement to qualify our initiative on the November ballot. Together, we can stop this.”

Stopping the smokestacks would have the added benefit of keeping tar sands out of South Portland. The citizens expressed deep concern about potential tar sands spills in South Portland, Casco Bay, and Sebago Lake, the city’s drinking water supply. The 63-year-old Portland-Montreal pipeline crosses through a cove of Sebago Lake and the entire watershed.

The City Clerk has 20 days to certify the signatures and then the initiative ordinance will go to the City Council for its consideration.