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Waterford passes anti-tar sands resolution/oil industry, Canadian government urges citizens to get more info
WATERFORD — A comfortable majority of voters approved the adoption of a non-binding municipal resolution opposing the transport of tar sands oil through a stretch of the Portland-Montreal pipeline that runs through Waterford during the annual town meeting March 3.
The resolution passed 56 to 34, after an hour of testimony from residents, local and state environmental groups and representatives from the Portland-Montreal Pipeline, petroleum industry and Canadian government.
Critics allege pipeline companies plan to pump oil-sands-derived crude oil from Alberta through the pipeline, presenting an unacceptable risk to the area's ecosystem and pristine Crooked River watershed.
Representatives from Portland Pipeline Company have said there is no active plan to reverse the pipeline's flow.
The vote makes Waterford the third Maine town to adopt a non-binding resolution against the transportation of tar sands through the PMPL. The PMPL runs through the town for 7.8 miles.
Through the resolution, the town opposes any change in flow or product in the pipeline and calls for a thorough environmental review of any future plan to pump tar sands oil through it.
The type of oil derived from Alberta's oil sands is more corrosive, acidic and toxic than conventional crude oil, damages pipelines and can result in devastating spills, critics allege.
Defenders of tar sands oil say the product is scarcely different than conventional heavy crude and poses no additional risk to pipeline infrastructure or the environment.
At the opening of the March 2 meeting, Selectboard Chair Randy Lessard suggested voters allow a rounded conversation about the issue.
Paula Easton, a resolution organizer, told residents transporting tar sands oil through the pipeline presented "unacceptable risks" to the area and a spill could result in irreversible damage to the area's fragile ecosystem and the Crooked River, which the pipeline crosses five times.
"It's up to you to make a choice to protect what you love about Waterford or leave it in the hands of the pipeline and the oil companies," Easton told voters.
The resolution does not oppose the pipeline's current use, only the transportation of tar sands oil through it, Easton said.
Residents Earl Morse and Bart Hague urged fellow residents to vote for the resolution, saying the risk of a spill outweighed any other considerations.
Lee Dassler from the Western Foothills Land Trust, Colin Holme from the Lakes Environmental Association and Dylan Voorhees from the Natural Resources Council of Maine also spoke in support of the resolution.
Other residents including Tim Sawyer, whose father worked for Portland Pipeline Company, and Richard Morse who contracts with PPLC, asked voters to wait until they could get more information about the issue.
Both men said the company was a strong partner with an excellent environmental record and knew of no active plan to reverse the pipeline's flow.
"If I thought there was any harm to the town of Waterford, I'd oppose it," Morse told voters.
Addressing the assembly, PPLC President Larry Wilson said information given to voters by resolution organizers was "riddled" with inaccurate and misleading information.
"You haven't heard the truth yet," Wilson said. "You haven't heard all the facts."
He said there was no active plan to reverse the pipeline's flow and the community didn't need to pass a resolution so hastily.
Although there was no current plan, Wilson said the company remained open to any opportunity to utilize its local assets and it wouldn't be a "radical change" to pump in a different direction.
PPLC had an excellent safety record, Wilson said – the pipelines were subject to regular maintenance and inspections.
He acknowledged spills were always a concern, but the company had clean-up plans in place and didn't have the option of "walking away" from a spill.
Aaron Annable, a representative from the Canadian Consulate and John Quinn, from the American Petroleum Institute, asked voters to get more information about the issue before voting on a resolution.
Residents attempted to table the resolution and gather more information but were defeated by a narrow margin, 43-45.
Voters also passed a $1.25 million municipal budget and voted to make road foreman an appointed, not elected position.