The possibility of a six-month moratorium on oil and petroleum storage tanks in a big part of town brought out a large crowd for the Dec. 19 Mobile City Council Rules Committee meeting today.

Unsurprisingly the comments offered by the public were passionate and the crowd at the meeting was seemingly split 50 percent in favor of the moratorium and 50 percent opposed to it.

Although the Dec. 19 meeting was to hear from the public, it ultimately came down to what the committee, chaired by Councilman John Williams and members are Councilors Bess Rich and CJ Small, would recommend.

The Rules Committee was much like the audience in that it was split. Rich and Small voted in favor of recommending passage of the moratorium, but Williams said it would not give the impression that Mobile is business friendly.

“I think this would send the wrong message,” he said. “I think we can delay the vote some. A hasty decision by the government is almost never a good decision.”

Councilors Fred Richardson and Levon Manzie sponsored the proposed ordinance that would temporarily halt the issuance of permits for companies looking to locate oil and/or petroleum storage facilities within a designated area of the city. The area that would protected from the storage units runs from north and south of Bay Bridge Road and New Bay Bridge Road, but is bounded on the east by the Mobile River and Mobile Bay and on the west by St. Stephens Road to Broad Street and to Interstate 10 to Dauphin Island Parkway until the city limits.

Proponents of the moratorium championed the council for “taking a stand” against “big oil,” which they said created “dirty jobs.”

Opponents argued the “sweeping moratorium” would scare off businesses and give the sense that Mobile is closed for business. Some also said the standards for oil storage tanks are such that it ensures safety.

Business leaders and one Mobile County Commissioner urged the council not to pass the moratorium. Commissioner Jerry Carl said the talk of a moratorium on business is something that frightens him.

“This sends fear to my heart,” he said. “We talk about being pro-business. This moratorium is a direct hit to the pro-business attitude. That’s the way it will be viewed.”

President and CEO of Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce Bill Sisson also felt it would hurt business development in the county.

“It sends a message that we are closed for business,” he said. “It can be and will be used against us.”

American Tank & Vessel CEO Bill Cutt, Shell Oil Company employee Fred Wheeler, Michael Tew representing the Association of General Contractors and Mobile County Road Builders and Charles Wilson, who works for Total Safety US, all spoke to stop the moratorium from being approved.

Cutt said his company makes sure every standard and safety measure is met. Wheeler noted that no storage tank company wants to spill one drop of oil.

“They’re not in the business of spillage. If that happens, the company loses money,” he said. “I don’t understand the need and the desire to do this.”

Tew and Sisson urged a slower approach to the issue saying the matter should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

Opponents of the moratorium couldn’t disagree more.

 Susan Schwartz, an attendee at the meeting, likened the moratorium to the pause button on a remote.

“This allows us to make sound decisions and consider all of the consequences,” she said. “To say this will hurt business or Airbus dismays me. Airbus isn’t even going to be operational until 2015.”

Brenda Bolton, a researcher for the citizens action group Tar Sands Oil Mobile, said the city needs to be focused on the plan for the city and safety.

“We need to see what benefits the citizens and protects the environment, which is what is written in the city’s newest plan,” she said. “This moratorium, I think, will give us a chance to implement these plans the council has voted on.”

Many other people spoke out in favor of the moratorium including four councilors — Richardson, Small, Manzie and Rich. However, the vote will need five votes to pass.

The timetable for the vote on the moratorium has not been set just yet. People opposing and supporting the moratorium asked the council to delay the vote from Dec. 31, which is when the council meets again.