Casco lands environmental award

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Two summers ago on the shores of Sebago Lake, rallies were held to remember the one-year anniversary of the tar sands oil spill on the Kalamazoo River.

For many Lakes Region residents, word of such rallies was the first time they had heard of tar sands oil, a petroleum product known as bitumen that is mined from Western Canada’s boreal forest.

Since then, the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) has sponsored many more rallies and roundtable discussions.

At the beginning of 2013, the Town of Casco drew a line in the sand.

At its special town meeting in January, citizens passed a resolution opposing tar sands oil. The resolution stated that people did not want tar sands oil transported through a pipeline that crosses the Crooked River several times and edges less than 1,000 feet from Big Sebago Lake.

On Wednesday, Oct. 16, the NRCM will present the 2013 Environmental Award to the town of Casco — along with the towns of Harrison, Waterford and Otisfield.

The awards ceremony will take place from 10 to 11 a.m. at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall.

According to NRCM Grassroots Outreach Coordinator Todd Martin, a total of seven towns passed resolutions opposing tar sands oil, and NRCM worked directly with citizens from the four towns being awarded.

“These towns that have passed resolutions along the pipeline route are working to protect the health and safety of their neighbors,” Martin said.

“I think that it’s about people standing up to protect their hometowns and their backyards from a real threat — the threat of tar sands oil being transported through a 63-year-old pipeline,” Martin said.

“The pipeline goes through sensitive habitats, through sensitive ecosystems, and in some cases, people’s property,” he said.

Paula Easton will accept the award on the behalf of Waterford residents, while Lee Margolan will receive one for Harrison, and Lee Dassler will represent Otisfield. Casco Open Space Commission Chairman Eric Dibner and Casco Board of Selectmen Chairman Mary-Vienessa Fernandes have agreed to accept the 2013 award for their town.

“I was tickled when Eric called me up and asked me to go,” Fernandes said on Monday.

“This resolution means that people are concerned about their natural resources: Water quality and air quality,” she said.

“Kalamazoo is enough for me. What they had to endure. Thirty miles of waterways that cannot be used; people had to evacuate their homes,” she said.

“Our lakes and rivers are vital for the communities. Sebago Lake is a source of drinking water — we can start there,” she said.

“People think it would be okay because we need fuel. But, not at the expense of our public water shed,” Fernandes said.

“We cannot afford a spill,” she said.

“Portland Pipe Line (Corporation) has an excellent record, an excellent safety record,” she said.

“But, like I said, remember what happened in Kalamazoo,” she said.

The town-supported resolutions not only stated that residents are opposed to the transportation of bitumen through southern Maine pipelines, but also the resolutions requested that Portland Pipe Line be required to re-apply for its presidential permit.

According to Martin, the company received a presidential permit in 2008. With that already in place, the company could move forward with plans to switch from the conventional crude currently running through the pipeline to tar sands oil.

NRCM considers the transportation of tar sands oil to be a different use, Martin said.

“We believe that the tar sands is a different product. It’s heavier. It’s thicker. It has other chemicals to keep it in liquid form. It is different than oil being piped through the pipeline right now,” he said.

The re-application process would entail an Environmental Impact Study, which would require looking at potential impacts on the environment.

As part of the resolution, town staff mailed official letters stating the desires of the Casco community. Copies of those letters were sent to politicians ranging from representatives in Augusta to the president of the United States.

Another component of the resolution was a demand for businesses and communities to explore alternative sources to fossil fuel.

“The resolutions are non-binding; they don’t hold up in court. They are the official position of the towns — saying, ‘We don’t want tar sands,’” Martin said.

“It is significant, because it helped change the debates about the transportation of tar sands oil in Maine,” he said.

The city of Portland is another recipient of an NRCM award. The waterfront zone change is still headed to the Nov. 5 ballot.

If passed — that proposed ordinance would be more binding than a resolution, Martin said.

“The ordinance being considered in South Portland would hold up in court we believe,” he said.

“The zone change would prevent the construction of the infrastructure needed for Portland Pipe Line to export tar sands oil,” he said.

By comparison, there are no ordinances that could be passed in Lakes Region towns, because the project did not require building new infrastructure.

“They would just re-purpose the pipeline,” Martin said.

“There is nothing more that towns on the northern end of the pipeline route can do,” he said.

Dibner, of Casco, was pleased about the upcoming award.

“I think it is great for the town,” he said.

“People in Casco were saying that the environment is really important to them, even when there is only a slight risk of damage to the environment,” he said. “Any risk is too dangerous to consider, because we want to see our environment to stay clean,” Dibner said.

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