GUEST COLUMN – Vote facts not fear, oppose the WPO

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In my 18 years on the South Portland City Council, I was charged with making hundreds of votes that affected the lives of my neighbors, friends and fellow citizens. It was an honor and a challenge every day, and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve the community I love.

The voters of South Portland now have their own critical decision to make. In November, we will consider whether to adopt the so-called “Waterfront Protection Ordinance.” After careful consideration, I am voting no on the WPO. Let me take a moment to tell you why.

The Waterfront Protection Ordinance was placed on the ballot by citizen initiative. Proponents of the WPO secured signatures in large part by claiming that it was needed to protect Bug Light from “smokestacks.” In fact, a script that proponents used to secure signatures says:

“As you may have heard, ExxonMobil wants to build two 70-foot smokestacks on the pier next to Bug Light in order to export toxic tar sands oil out of Casco Bay. This project is a big threat to our drinking water and Casco Bay. We can stop the smokestacks. If enough people sign the petition to put our Waterfront Protection Ordinance on the November ballot.”

Well, who wouldn’t want to sign the WPO petition after hearing that? Except, this selective explanation of the WPO, specifically designed to scare you into signing, doesn’t tell anywhere close to the real story. First, ExxonMobil doesn’t own or operate any terminals or pipeline facilities in South Portland and it isn’t seeking to do anything here. Second, there is no pending or proposed project by anyone to either develop “smokestacks” at Bug Light or export tar sands.

Perhaps most importantly, the petitioners would have you believe that this is a very narrowly tailored ordinance. It is not. It’s time for some hard truth – if passed, the overbroad WPO would devastate our working waterfront and eventually end the petroleum industry that has been an integral part of our community and culture for nearly 100 years.

I care greatly about the environment and our quality of life. As mayor of South Portland in 1996, I helped lead an effort with my colleagues on the council and committed members of our community to preserve Bug Light and turn the surrounding area into a park for our families to enjoy for generations. It might surprise you to learn that Portland Pipe Line Corporation, an excellent neighbor and corporate citizen here for 72 years, was an integral partner in our collaborative efforts to create Bug Light Park, helping to make our dream a reality. Without them, we wouldn’t have Bug Light Park today. They and the rest of our trusted working waterfront friends know what it means to be good neighbors.

If the WPO passes, the results will be immediate and dramatic. Testimony before the Planning Board made clear that businesses will close, jobs will be lost and working families in our community will be harmed. The Waterfront Protection Ordinance will cost South Portland hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue each year. This revenue supports our police, our firefighters, our teachers and schools, our roads and bridges. Our comprehensive plan, which was developed as part of a collaborative, community effort over a nearly two-year period, was just adopted in October – less than one year ago. It explicitly recognizes the maritime and petroleum uses on the waterfront as part of our future. It’s easy to see why a few short days ago the South Portland Planning Board determined that the WPO is not consistent with our comprehensive plan.

I know many of you are concerned about tar sands, and those sentiments may have inspired you to sign the Waterfront Protection Ordinance petition. But the WPO is not about tar sands, smokestacks or Bug Light, as its supporters would have you believe. The WPO is poorly drafted, overbroad, not in compliance with our comprehensive plan and unenforceable.

Put plainly, the WPO is pointed at the heart of our entire working waterfront that has sustained our families and community for generations.

I choose to vote based on facts, not fear, which is why I am opposing the Waterfront Protection Ordinance. Please get the facts and join me in voting no in November.

Linda Boudreau is a longtime resident of South Portland, whose service to the community includes 18 years on the South Portland City Council; three terms as mayor; six years on the South Portland School Committee; and two years on the South Portland Planning Board.