PORTLAND, Maine — The city of South Portland has lost its “business friendly” designation from Gov. Paul LePage’s administration as a result of its ordinance blocking the export of tar sands, or oil sands, from its waterfront.
Doug Ray, spokesman for the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, confirmed Friday that South Portland is the first “business friendly” community to lose the designation that provides additional points to municipalities applying for federal Community Development Block Grant funds for Maine and a state-approved “Open for Business” sign in the town.
“The administration is very disappointed and finds it hard to believe that local elected leaders in South Portland would then turn around and pass an ordinance (Clear Skies) that is clearly anti-business, anti-growth and anti-jobs,” Ray wrote in an email. “What message does this send to the business community that might be left wondering, what business sector will be targeted next?”
The city’s revocation from the program was first reported in the South Portland and Cape Elizabeth weekly newspaper, the Sentry, Friday morning.
Mary-Jane Ferrier, spokeswoman for the group Protect South Portland that led the effort to pass the ordinance, called the move and reasoning of the Department of Economic and Community Development “over the top.”
“There are other businesses than people who build smokestacks and bring oil into the city that is polluting and would damage our air,” Ferrier said. “If they take away an honorific like that, it’s not going to change the nature of South Portland. South Portland is a great community to live in, and we don’t rely on signs to make that happen.”
The ordinance prohibits the “bulk loading of crude oil onto marine tank vessels” and also prohibits expansion of facilities to refine or manufacture petroleum products or other flammable liquids.
Ray said that Economic and Community Development Commissioner George Gervais met with Assistant City Manager Jon Jennings on Feb. 20 to notify him of the decision to revoke South Portland’s business-friendly designation. There are 31 municipalities with that designation, first introduced by LePage with a batch of nine communities in 2012.
The designation typically expires after two years, when a town or city would have to reapply. South Portland received the certification in 2013.
“We are currently exploring various improvements to the program including certification criteria, the ongoing review process, and overall benefit to communities,” Ray said. “The program was not intended to simply serve as a rubber stamp and for us to then walk away.”
Jennings, South Portland’s assistant city manager, did not return requests for comment by phone or email Friday.