OTISFIELD — The public is invited to attend a May 29 forum to discuss the possibility of bringing tar sands slurry from Alberta, Canada, through Western Maine via the Portland-Montreal pipeline.

Sponsored by the Otisfield Conservation Committee, the forum will be held at 7 p.m. at the Otisfield Community Hall on Route 121.

Otisfield residents recently completed a petition drive that successfully placed a resolution on the town warrant this June to oppose piping tar sands through town. Similar to resolutions adopted recently in neighboring towns such as Casco and Waterford, it is titled “A Resolution to Protect the Health and Safety of Local Citizens, Water Bodies and other Natural Resources in Relation to the Possible Transport of Tar Sands Oil through Maine.”

The resolution reads, in part, “We, the citizens of Otisfield, Maine, have come to understand that the Portland-Montreal Pipeline which runs through our town is being considered for the transport of tar sands oil from Montreal to South Portland, which would be a reversal of flow and change from its original use…through the adoption of this resolution, the Town of Otisfield expresses its opposition to the transport of tar sands through our town via the existing Public Utility Easement. We feel that such transport is of no benefit to Otisfield, and entails unacceptable risks to our rivers, our public health and safety, property values, recreational resources, water quality and the pristine natural resources upon which our community depends.”

The entire resolution may be found online at www.otisfieldme.gov.

The May 29 forum will feature a panel discussion by proponents and opponents of tar sands, followed by a question and answer period. The lineup of panelists has yet to be finalized. The committee intends to invite people with a range of views so all sides will be represented.

Tar sands, also known as diluted bitumen, or “dilbit,” is a heavy fuel derived from strip mining huge swaths of the Boreal Forest in Alberta, Canada. With the consistency of peanut butter, tar sands crude must be laced with a toxic brew of chemical additives and pumped at high pressure to force it through pipelines, according to a statement from the committee.

In Western Maine, a 62-year old pipeline would carry tar sands slurry across the Androscoggin River twice and the Crooked River six times. The Crooked River is a significant part of the drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of Mainers and an important fishery. Eight miles of the pipeline route passes through Otisfield, the committee said.

Local opponents point to a 2010 pipeline breach that decimated the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Homes had to be evacuated because of the toxic fumes. Tar sands are heavier than conventional crude, and much of the leaked material sank to the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent, but the river isn’t cleaned up. Agencies like EPA have never dealt with tar sands before and are experimenting with new cleanup methods on the fly, they said.

On March 29, 2013, a pipeline of equivalent age and dimension as the Portland-Montreal pipeline spilled an estimated 10,000 barrels of tar sands oil into residential streets in Mayflower, Ark., the committee said. A similar pipeline failure in Otisfield could spell disaster for natural resources, and the businesses that depend on a clean environment, it said.

While opponents have no problem with the current use of the pipeline, they think  reversing the flow direction and using it to transport tar sands elevates the risk to an unacceptable level, according to the committee.

For more information, contact the Otisfield Town Office at 539-2664, or email Jeff Stern, Otisfield Conservation Committee chairman, at [email protected] Please put “Tar Sands” in the subject line of the email.

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