Bethel town meeting Jan. 30 on tar sands, Bingham Authority
At the urging of two dozen people who turned out for the Bethel selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, the board voted to place a resolution opposing the transport of tar sands oil through Maine on the warrant for a Jan. 30 special town meeting.
Before the action, the only item expected to be on the warrant was the formation of a Bingham Forest Authority to oversee the 2,300-acre Bingham parcel, acquired in 2011 by the town.
The vote by selectmen was 2-1, with Peter Southam and Stan Howe in favor and Don Bennett opposed.
Selectmen Pat Carter and Lloyd Sweetser were absent.
Bennett said he might ultimately agree with the citizens’ position on the tar sands issue. But he worried it was too large and complex a topic to take on at a special meeting on such short notice.
Some environmentally-minded groups believe the Portland-Montreal pipeline, which currently transports oil to Montreal and passes through Bethel and other area towns, could soon have its direction of flow reversed to transport tar sands, or bitumen, oil from the oil fields of Alberta, Canada to Montreal and then on to Portland, to be shipped around the world.
Brendon Bass read a statement outlining the group’s concerns about the safety of such a proposition, including the age of the pipeline (60 years), and what they say is the composition and method of transport of the oil (more abrasive, hotter, containing solvents and under greater pressure than regular crude oil).
They worry that the combination increases the likelihood of a break in the pipeline and a spill that could damage the environment, including the Androscoggin River, and hurt the local economy.
Oil and pipeline companies that would be involved in reversing the flow have denied such a plan.
The Bethel group presented a proposed resolution (at left) to selectmen.
Town Manager Jim Doar asked the group, “Why is it pressing? Why can’t it wait until the annual town meeting?”
Ken Hotopp replied, “Things are moving very quickly. There’s a lot of uncertainty with what will happen with our pipeline, and with tar sands in general. It’s a good reason to have our say, and to have it soon. Pipelines are being reversed now in Canada.”
He said the town of Casco has already voted in favor of a resolution, and Waterford will vote in March.
“If we wait til June, it may be that things have been decided for us. We don’t know that there’s a deadline, we just know that sooner is much better than later.”
He said Bethel’s views could be important to the stand Rep. Mike Michaud might take on the issue.
Betsey Cooper said that 30 years ago she bought property in West Bethel, through which the pipeline runs. She said she expected then the pipeline would become obsolete, with oil being replaced by cleaner fuels. Now, she said, not only does oil continue to flow but the threat to the environment could increase.
Bennett expressed sympathy with the group’s views, but said he thought there should be more opportunity first for general discussion in the commu-nity. “I don’t know the other side,” he said. “To have this all happen in a matter of eight days, and add this on, seems to me to be a bit quick.”
Southam spoke in favor of the resolution. “I see no benefit to allowing tar sands going through the pipeline. I see a whole lot of potentially catastrophic results,” he said.
Howe said he was concerned about only three selectmen making the decision regarding the warrant article, but he eventually voted in favor of consideration next week.
(For more on tar sands, see Letter, Page 2.)
As for the other article, selectmen propose that the town’s administrative ordinance be amended to add a Bingham Forest Authority, which would determine minimum standards for the management of the forest and develop plans for recreational amenities, subject to approval of selectmen. The town manager would implement the standards and plans.
The board would have five members, one of whom would be a member of the Bethel Water District Board of Trustees. The remaining four would be appointed by selectmen for three-year terms, and they would be registered voters of Bethel or Newry (no more than one member from Newry, where the forest is located).
The meeting will start at 7 p.m. at the Crescent Park Elementary School.