SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Residents of South Portland voted down an initiative on Tuesday aimed at blocking the flow of tar sands oil to the city.
The proposal, which voters defeated 4,453 to 4,261, would have banned the expansion and enlargement of any existing petroleum storage tanks or distribution facilities in some districts along South Portland’s waterfront.
Supporters were concerned that a pipeline that sends crude oil north from South Portland could be reversed to bring tar sands oil from Canada. They said bringing in tar sands would expose the area and residents to harmful toxins and the failed measure was the only way to ensure that does not happen.
Opponents, including the company that operates the pipeline, poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign against the ban, which they said was unnecessary and harmful. They said the broadly written ordinance would have prevented petroleum-related and other waterfront businesses from completing such tasks as regular maintenance and upgrades, which would eventually shut down the city’s working waterfront.
Jamie Py, executive director of the Maine Energy Marketers Association, said the vote against the proposed ordinance was a vote to protect the city’s jobs and economy.
‘‘Our fact-based campaign has stood in stark contrast to the proponents’ campaign based on fear and misinformation about oil sands,’’ he said.
Protect South Portland, backed by the Natural Resources Council of Maine and other environmental groups, insisted that the proposal wouldn’t have a significant impact on existing businesses.
The group said that since the city cannot regulate pipelines, the ban was the only way to prevent future tar sands proposals.
But critics said there was no proposal to reverse the pipeline and that backers of the measure weren’t truthful when framing it as a tar sands issue, pointing to the fact that the measure does not even mention the word ‘‘tar sands.’’