Tar sands resolution to go before Bridgton voters

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Selectmen voted Tuesday to include a resolution on the June Town Meeting warrant opposing the transport of tar sands diluted bitumen through the Portland Pipe Line.

Even thought the pipeline doesn’t run directly through Bridgton, it passes through the neighboring towns of Waterford, Casco and Harrison. The board, while expressing some reservations, agreed that Bridgton residents ought to be given the chance to weigh in on the debate, which has already led three towns (Casco, Waterford and Bethel) to pass anti-tar sands oil resolutions. During June’s town meeting season, it is expected that dozens of towns will vote on similar resolutions.

“I’m not a big fan of these kinds of things, said member Woody Woodward, “that really have no…”

“Teeth,” Board Chairman Paul Hoyt finished for him. Woodward likened the resolution to having residents take a formal vote to protest the war in Afghanistan, or the war in Syria.

Marita Wiser, who helped draft the resolution’s language along with Jon and Sally Chappell, agreed that the resolution was nonbinding, since the approval process for allowing the pipeline to be used to transport tar sands oil instead of traditional crude oil lies at the state and federal levels. But in their cover letter, the three residents wrote, “We believe this threat rises to the same level of concern as the government’s proposal in the 1980s to site a nuclear waste dump in the Lakes Region.”

The resolution, if passed, would declare the town of Bridgton opposed to using the South Portland-to-Montreal pipeline for the reverse flow of tar sands oil because of the environmental risks involved. It calls for “thorough environmental impact reviews” of the health and safety impacts of such transport on both the state and federal level, and supports creation of guidelines for tracking “the origin and chemical composition of various types of fuel,” so that governments and first responders can be better prepared for the risks involved.

The resolution also supports creation of a Clean Fuels Standard in Maine and the Northeast, to “help shift away from high impact fuels such as those from tar sands” and toward cleaner energy options.

Woodward complimented the language of the resolution as being more tempered than some of the arguments he’s heard opposing tar sands oil. He recommended tempering the wording further by using the words “could” or “might” when referring to the environmental impacts of a spill or a leak.

Member Doug Hoyt suggested taking out the reference to the 2010 tar sands spill in Kalamazoo River in Michigan and its resultant “environmental disaster, with continuing, long-lasting impacts.”

Wiser said the language calling for identification of the chemicals used was included because the oil industry considers it a “trade secret” to reveal precisely which chemicals are used, and in what amounts, to dilute the “peanut butter” texture of the tar sands enough to make it flow through the pipeline.

Fire Chief Glen Garland noted that firefighters and other first responders are already given annual training opportunities from the pipeline company and on the state level on how to deal with a chemical spill.

A formal public hearing on the resolution will be held at the board’s April 9 meeting.

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