The small town of Waterford, Maine over the weekend became the third town in the state to pass a resolution declaring opposition to a plan aimed at bringing Canadian tar sands oil through an existing oil pipeline running from Montreal to the New England coast.
“This project is about money,” said pipeline opponent and town resident Paula Easton ahead of the vote. The risks to the local environment—including the Crooked River watershed that provides drinking water to a huge portion of southern Maine—were "unacceptable and irreversible” she said.
According to the Lewiston (Maine) Sun Journal, Easton was in the majority who ultimately voted for the resolution in a 56-34 split at the open town meeting on Saturday.
Residents were especially concerned about the possibility of a spill and remained unconvinced by industry executives present at the meeting.
“The 7.8 mile Waterford section of the pipeline holds nearly one million gallons of oil. From the Raymond shut-off valve to the Waterford shut off valve the 25 miles holds over 3 million gallons of oil,” says Waterford resident and retired scientist and educator Earl Morse. “If this antiquated, 62 year old pipeline carries tar sands and ruptures like what happened in Kalamazoo, Michigan in July 2010, the Crooked River watershed and Sebago Lake would be devastated.”
In addition to concerns about protecting local waterways and drinking water, the resolution stated concern for larger environmental and public health hazards of tar sands in the context of a town and region heavily dependent on a clean environment for recreation, tourism, and the economy at large.
“We congratulate the town and citizens of Waterford on passing this important resolution,” said Todd Martin, Outreach Coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Once you learn about tar sands and pipelines, it’s not hard to see that it would be a bad deal for Maine. We expect dozens of other towns along the pipeline to speak out in the coming months.”
The current pipeline, owned by the Exxon Mobil subsidiary Portland-Montreal Pipeline Company is a pipeline system for conventional oil that begins at a coastal terminal in the city of South Portland and carries the fuel 236 miles to Montreal.
As part of a quiet yet controversial push by those trying to find export outlets for Alberta tar sands, the PMPC said it would welcome an opportunity to reverse the flow of its pipeline, even though tar sands is much more corrosive than its conventional cousin and despite the fact that the pipeline is over sixty years old.
“After hearing from experts on both sides, and after more than an hour of discussion, the people of Waterford have spoken,” said Waterford Select Board Chair Randy Lessard. “We feel as a town that transporting tar sands oil through the Portland-Montreal pipeline poses unpredictable risks to the health, safety, natural resources, property and economic welfare of Waterford residents.”
President of the PMPC Larry Wilson spoke ahead of the vote as well, saying that once residents "heard the truth," they wouldn't oppose the pipeline. He tried to calm fears of a spill by saying, “Spills are difficult; they're challenging. Companies don't have the option of devastating the environment and walking away. You have to clean up the spill.”
It's possible he had not yet read this report from Michigan, where the Enbridge pipeline company continues to fight even its obligation to fund independent studies designed to determine the ongoing impacts of an oil spill that spewed nearly one million gallons of Canadian tar sands into the Kalamazoo River 2010. Regardless, Wilson was not successful in his attempt to persuade the majority, including town resident Bart Hague.
“As a landowner of 480 acres along the Crooked River and a mile of land that the pipeline traverses in Waterford, my land would be directly affected should tar sands be pumped through the Portland Montreal Pipeline,” said Hague. “A tar sands oil spill in the wetland habitat along the Crooked River would be nearly impossible to clean up since tar sands is heavier and thicker than conventional oil.”
In January, thousands of people from all over New England converged in the city of Portland to voice their opposition to the pipeline. An upcoming town forum in South Portland, where new pumping stations would have to be built, is scheduled for next week.
The complete language of the Waterford municipal resolution follows:
WE, the citizens of Waterford Maine, have come to understand that the Portland-Montreal Pipeline which runs through our town is being considered for the transport of tar sands oil from Montreal to South Portland, which would be a reversal of flow and change from its original use.
a) We are opposed to any change in either the flow direction or the type product pumped for any of the current crude oil pipelines that flow through Waterford and cross the Crooked River it’s tributaries, wetlands and aquifer.
b) Through the adoption of this resolution, the Town of Waterford expresses its opposition to the transport of tar sands through our town via the existing Public Utility Easement. We feel that such transport is of no benefit to Waterford and entails unacceptable risk to our river, our public health and safety, property values, recreation resources, water quality, and the pristine natural resources upon which our community depends.
c) Through the adoption of this resolution, the town of Waterford calls upon the Maine State Legislature, United States Congress, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and State Departments to require thorough environmental impact reviews of all tar sands pipeline proposals, including a complete evaluation of the health, safety and environmental risks.
d.) Through the adoption of this resolution, the town of Waterford supports the creation of clear Federal and State guidelines for tracking the chemical composition of pipeline transported fuels so that local governments, citizens, and first responders can better understand, and plan for, the risks associated with the specific type of fuel flowing through or to their communities.
e.) Through the adoption of this resolution, the town of Waterford encourages the State of Maine and other states in the northeast to support policies that help develop and shift fuel use away from high impact fuels such as tar sands.
f.) Through the adoption of this resolution, the town of Waterford will transmit a copy of this resolution to the Maine State Congressional delegation, Maine State Representative of Waterford, and the Maine State Senator representing Waterford, the US EPA and State Departments.