Court to rule whether South Portlanders have to pay legal fees in pipeline lawsuit

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. Tonight an update on the South Portland pipeline lawsuit; meanwhile, in SoPo, police have been using a controversial tool to monitor social media; and a new arts festival is planned for Portland in March.

What we’re talking about

Portland Pipe Line Corporation's terminal facility in South Portland (BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett)

Portland Pipe Line Corporation’s terminal facility in South Portland (BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett)

South Portland has already spent nearly 75 percent of its roughly $1 million legal budget to defend an ordinance that blocks the Portland Pipe Line Corp. from importing Canadian oil. And the trial hasn’t even started.

But before a federal court hears the case over South Portland’s controversial Clear Skies ordinance, Maine’s highest court will decide whether local taxpayers will have to foot the bill for legal fees or if the city’s legal insurance will be forced to cover the cost.

The oil company is suing South Portland over the ordinance, and an association that offers cities group insurance declined to cover the municipality’s legal defense fees. So the city sued the Maine Municipal Association to try to make it.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Dec. 14 will hear oral arguments over the issue, after a lower court ruled that the association doesn’t have to defend South Portland.

If the city loses, it might have to pay damages in addition to being saddled with the full cost of fighting Portland Pipe Line Corp. in court. With its legal fund waning, a ruling against South Portland in Maine court might affect how the city handles the potentially pricey federal trial.

The Portland-Montreal pipeline has long carried oil across New England to refineries in the Canadian city. But as global oil markets have shifted in recent years, the pipeline has gone mostly dry and the company would like to begin carrying oil from Canada into Maine.

Local opponents of this shift argue that the extraction of heavy crude from the western Canadian oil sands emits more carbon and contributes more to global warming than American oil does. But Portland Pipe Line Corp. contends that South Portland’s ordinance is interfering with interstate commerce and is therefore unconstitutional. — Jake Bleiberg

In other news

Maine police are using a controversial tool to monitor what you say online — Jake today breaks the news that the South Portland Police Department has been using a tool designed to monitor what you post on social media — and where.

The program, known as Geofeedia, works by pinpointing the location of people who are posting publicly on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook.

Geofeedia was developed with financial support from the CIA. As it has gained traction with police who use it to track protests and look for danger signs like the word “gun” online, it has also become the center of a national debate over privacy and government surveillance.

“People don’t realize that the government is monitoring the personal information they share,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. “This isn’t just the police standing in a public square. This is the police standing in our bedrooms and living rooms.”

Police say that they are merely listening in on public statements. But privacy and free speech advocates contend that people shouldn’t have to worry about government surveillance when speaking their minds online. Perhaps as a result of such criticism, last month Facebook, Twitter and Instagram cut Geofeedia off from their data.

Thompson’s Point owner plans two-day music festival for March Kathleen Pierce breaks the news that Sunaana, a two-day music and arts festival, is planned for Thompson’s Point in March. The festival marks the opening of a sprawling new event space, Brick South.  

In court tomorrow — A Cumberland County Superior Court judge is slated to sentence Noyes Street landlord Gregory Nisbet tomorrow afternoon. Nisbet may speak for the first time since the trial began.

The Big Idea

America’s labor unions are about to die — Raymond Hogler of Colorado State University writes for The Conversation:

The decline of organized labor, beginning in the late 1970s, has helped give birth to the backlash that fueled Donald Trump’s election.

Labor’s deterioration weakened worker protections, kept wages stagnant and caused income inequality to soar to the highest levels in over eight decades. It also made workers feel they needed a savior like Trump.

In other words, his unlikely victory follows a straight line from the defeat of the Labor Reform Act of 1978 to the election of 2016. That bill would have modernized and empowered unions through more effective recognition procedures accompanied by enhanced power in negotiations. Instead, its death by filibuster became the beginning of their end.

It’s a sad twist of irony that Trump’s election and Republican dominance across the country may finally destroy once and for all the institution most responsible for working- and middle-class prosperity. It will likely be a three-punch fight, ending with a fatal blow: the expansion of right-to-work laws across the country that would permanently empty the pockets of labor unions, eroding them of virtually all their collective solidarity.

Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at, or tweet @dsmacleod.

As always, like BDN Portland on Facebook for more local coverage.

Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the managing editor of the Bangor Daily News. He's an Orland native who moved to Portland in 2002 and now lives in Unity. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.