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6/13/2012 3:03:00 PM
Application Incomplete for DCP Propane Tank
in Searsport-
Nearby Towns Take a Stand on Proposed Searsport Mega-Tank
by Christine Parrish

Serious concern over DCP Midstream's proposal to build a 23-million-gallon liquid propane tank at Mack Point in Searsport, and with the state and federal review process of the proposal to date, has begun to solidify in the region as Searsport's Planning Board begins its review and towns in the region realize that the last opportunity for a thorough review of the project rests with that board. It would be the largest such tank in the country.

Islesboro recently raised the alert to area towns about the proposed development, making the case that the impact is regional and that Searsport should not review the permit to build without significant input from area towns. Of particular concern to Islesboro is the impact on emergency management mutual aid efforts in the face of an industrial emergency at Mack Point. Islesboro's Select Board sent a letter to the Town of Searsport and also requested other towns that would be impacted by the tank do the same.

"No single municipality in Waldo County or the region has the infrastructure in fire safety, emergency response, police or hospital facilities to cope with a catastrophic incident at the proposed DCP Midstream facility," stated the letter from Islesboro's Select Board to the Searsport Planning Board. "In the event of any emergency at the proposed LPG facility, Searsport will need the support of other communities in Waldo County and the midcoast region for fire, police and medical services, pursuant to the Waldo County emergency response mutual-aid agreement. Indeed, in representing that Searsport had the ability to respond to the fire safety and security challenges posed by this facility to the Army Corps of Engineers, emergency response officials in Searsport expressly relied on their ability to use the mutual-aid agreements throughout Waldo County to respond to any such emergency - thus acknowledging that without utilizing the resources of other municipalities in the region, Searsport lacks the personnel or equipment needed to handle any catastrophic incident at Mack Point." Islesboro's letter went on to specifically outline many other regional issues that it said must be considered and addressed prior to approval of any permit for the LPG facility.

Four other towns have now also sent letters to Searsport.

Belfast's City Council and the select boards in Camden, North Haven and Stockton Springs decided to send letters of concern to the Searsport Planning Board, asking them to do a more thorough assessment of the regional impacts of the proposed development.

Camden's Select Board had a split vote, 3-2, with Martin Cates and John French opposed to getting involved. The letter sent by Camden's Select Board to Searsport outlines concern about the impact of increased truck traffic, boat and tanker traffic, the impacts on tourism, and emergency response capability.

Stockton Springs' Select Board expressed similar concerns and voted unanimously, 5-0, to go on record as seeking an independent economic impact study of the proposed development.

DCP Midstream hired economist Charlie Colgan of the University of Southern Maine Muskie School to conduct an economic impact study earlier this year, but some have taken issue with his comparisons that tend to focus on larger municipalities with more diverse economies, rather than rural towns that are heavily invested in scenery and tourism dollars.

Stockton Springs expressed concern about the scenic impact of the development on the value of coastal real estate and the safety impact of propane cargo transported by rail on tracks that run through Stockton Springs. The town has eight railroad crossings, and the most populated part of the town is near the tracks.

DCP Midstream has no immediate plans to use railroad to ship cargo, but the availability of the rail line is one of the reasons they found the Searsport site attractive, according to company spokesperson Roz Elliott.

North Haven's concerns were more pointed; they hope the Searsport Planning Board will reject the proposed development. The North Haven Select Board voted unanimously, 5-0, to endorse the points raised by Islesboro. Of particular concern to North Haven are any potential impacts on the state ferry. The North Haven Select Board's letter states: "As residents of an island, we view the maintenance of our 'highway' to the mainland, the Maine State Ferry Service, as of paramount importance. Tanker traffic and possible tanker accidents loom as threats to the ferry service."

Belfast's City Council went further; they unanimously approved sending a letter to the Searsport Planning Board asking it to "recognize the many logical regional concerns that have been raised" and asking Searsport to grant Belfast "the right to participate in your permit review process." Belfast City Council noted that there is a history of cooperation between Searsport and Belfast on issues of economic development, public safety and regional traffic concerns.

Belfast city councilors also took strong issue with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to not hold a public hearing and to not require a thorough environmental impact study of the project, as Belfast had requested in February.

In its letter to Searsport, Belfast City Council said, "The need here is for transparency in the details of this project. There is also a need for the external communication of objective information by independent reviewers to all persons reasonably likely to be affected by this project."

by Christine Parrish
Feature Writer

The application to build a 23-million-gallon liquid propane tank at Mack Point in Searsport was deemed incomplete by the Searsport Planning Board on Monday night, June 11.

The main glitch in accepting the application was the lack of a Maine Fuel Board permit. DCP Midstream, the developer, has up to 60 days to provide the planning board with the permit, which hinges on a fire safety analysis. The planning board also required DCP to recalculate application fees and place $53,000 in escrow to be used by the town to hire independent consultants.

Once those items are in place, the review of the application can begin and a public meeting will be scheduled.

3-D Model, Simulation, Balloon Test Required:

In addition to the complete application, the planning board asked the developer to provide a computer simulation of the built-out site and a balloon test that would show the true height of the tank at the building site.

DCP Midstream representatives present at the meeting balked at creating a model, a simulation, or a balloon test, saying they would not provide the planning board with any additional information that was not already provided in two dimensions in the application and that it was an unnecessary expense for the company, would take unnecessary time and was not required for the completeness of the application.

"I thought the applicant had already agreed to do this," said Kristin Collins, the attorney representing the town on the DCP project. Collins was referring to a scale model that the company had offered to provide months ago. "Architects do this all the time. They take their own photos and do it."

Bruce Probert, the planning board chairman, said the public wanted those views and that the planning board also wanted a better sense of the visual impact of the development.

Probert said the balloon test would allow the public an opportunity to see how high the tank would be at the actual site of the development, with the top of the tank indicated by the top of the balloon.

The balloon test is scheduled to be held at dawn on Thursday, June 21, if the weather cooperates. June 22 is the back-up date. Five pictures will be taken of the balloon from different locations. A suggestion was made to wait until after the public hearing to schedule the balloon test, so the public could be involved, but DCP resisted, saying it was too difficult to schedule the equipment for the test to be on site.

The planning board approved the June dates.

The planning board also required DCP to provide a three-dimensional computer simulation of the built-out site with the tank and other structures in place and the vegetation removed. The simulation will include views from eight points, one of which will be the Sears Island causeway, at a distance of 2,000 feet from the development site.

Searsport Approves Hiring Three Consultants:

The planning board approved hiring three consultants: one for a small traffic study of the impacts on the development on Station Avenue, one for a town-wide economic impact study, and an engineering peer review consultant to provide oversight during the application review process.

#1) Traffic Study for Station Avenue

The Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) has approved an exit permit onto Route 1 for the development. Dave Allen, the MDOT traffic engineer who oversees state roads in Searsport, said the proposed development would not generate enough traffic to trigger an MDOT traffic engineering study.

A minimum of 100 vehicle trips per hour, during the peak travel hour at the proposed development, is the minimum to trigger an MDOT traffic study, according to Allen.

The DCP development will have three trucks per hour (six trips total). A tractor-trailer truck equals two cars in terms of traffic counts, so the peak hour coming out of DCP Midstream's site would be 12 trips, according to Allen.

Let's round it up to 15 trips a day, said Allen.

"Route 1 has tens of thousands of vehicles going down it every day," said Allen. "No one is even going to notice these trucks."

DCP  Midstream estimates from 12 to a maximum of 66 vehicles a day, noting that the application figure of 144 vehicles a day indicates the maximum capacity, not the realistic use.

The town will hire a consultant to estimate the wear and tear of the surface and subsurface of Station Avenue based on the weight of the trucks.

#2) Economic Impact Consultant

The board concluded they needed an independent economic impact assessment of the proposed development on several items: town-wide property values, the tax burden for the next 5 to 10 years, the impact of tourism for the next 5 to 10 years, the cost of municipal services for the next 5 to 10 years, and the impact on the town if special tax incentives are provided to DCP Midstream. The town has not offered tax incentives to the company.

A DCP spokesperson noted that they had already commissioned an economic impact study from University of Southern Maine economist Charlie Colgan.

The planning board said that any consultant they hire could potentially use the Colgan study as a starting point; however, during discussion, the town did not have sufficient information on potential consultants to decide on whom to hire. They appeared to have looked at one: Yellow Wood Associates of Vermont, but not thoroughly.

The planning board moved to require DCP to put aside an initial $25,000 to pay for the economic assessment, but did not yet name a consultant.

DCP representatives balked, saying it was a "really high amount for this kind of study." Some members of the audience, which had been waiting for hours for the public comment period to begin, hissed at the comment.

The planning board unanimously approved the expense, which will be paid for by DCP.

#3) Engineering Peer Review Consultant

Probert mentioned Neal Frangesh of LGA Engineering as a potential consultant with sufficient expertise to oversee the application review with the planning board.

Frangesh, an engineer who has done work for Exxon and DCP Midstream, also supervised construction of an LNG barge in Massachusetts. Probert said he did not think the work Frangesh had done for DCP indicated a potential conflict of interest.

DCP representatives questioned why the board needed oversight, noting it was not part of the application process and that it made sense to narrow the consultant's scope, since DCP would be paying for the consultant.

"I would like to have someone a whole lot smarter than I am looking at this," said Probert in response.

DCP representatives questioned the applicability to the town ordinances.

Collins broke in, reminding the DCP Midstream representatives that while the town was happy to hear their concerns, that it was up to the planning board to decide who to hire as consultants.

"The relevance to the ordinances is my job," she said. "He'll be there as our expert. His scope is incredibly broad."

The planning board unanimously approved requiring DCP Midstream to set aside an initial $25,000 for the peer review, but did not decide on who to hire as a consultant.

Public Comments Began at 10:30 p.m.

The sixty or so people who came to the meeting at 7 p.m. had dwindled to half that by the time Probert declared the public comment session open at 10:30 p.m. He said speakers should not exceed three minutes and that comments would be heard until 11 p.m. Probert then took off his watch and held it in his hand.

Without exception, speakers were brief. All wanted more thorough investigation into the impacts of the proposed tank.

Kim Tucker, an attorney from Islesboro, took issue with the narrow interpretation of town ordinances regarding the impacts on transportation, and the assumption that town ordinances only allowed the planning board to look at municipal roads. The ordinance included more than just the wear and tear on roads, she said. It included congestion, circulation and other impacts. She also noted that transportation concerns include boat traffic, especially state ferry traffic, and stressed that the development was a regional issue for this and other reasons, including emergency response.

Islesboro presents a proposal for an all-hazards risk assessment from none other than Richard Clarke

Islesboro, which has stepped up in encouraging other communities to get involved in the DCP review process, also provided a new twist.

Archie Gillies, an Islesboro selectman, presented the board with a proposal for an all-hazards risk assessment from Richard Clarke - the same Richard Clarke who served as a security advisor for three presidents of the United States. Clarke is now chairman of Good Harbor Consulting, a security and risk assessment firm based near Washington, D.C.

Clarke's proposal is for his company to conduct, among other things, a thorough assessment of the existing and future hazards, including worst-case scenarios, related to the DCP development, and an extensive review of the local and regional emergency response capabilities should such an incident occur. Gillies encouraged the Searsport Planning Board to consider hiring Clarke's firm.

Huge task, find help

Buddy Hall, the owner of Angler's Restaurant, stood up near the end of the meeting. Angler's is located on Route 1 adjacent to the proposed development. Hall thanked the planning board for their work, but cautioned them, too.

"You have a huge task in front of you," said Hall. "I'm at ground zero and I'm not going to get a do-over. I would ask for you to find help, to find the right answers, so if it's built, it's built correctly."

"Please do your due diligence and make the right decision, whichever way it goes."

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