At Searsport Planning Board meeting

Neighboring towns urge board to weigh regional tank impacts

By Tanya Mitchell | Jun 13, 2012
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell Islesboro selectman Arch Gillies urges the Searsport Planning Board to consider the proposed development of a 22.7 million gallon liquefied petroleum storage tank as a regional matter, not just a local issue.

Searsport — Residents and town officials from surrounding communities encouraged the Searsport Planning Board to consider how a proposed 22.7-million-gallon liquefied petroleum gas tank at Mack Point might impact life not only in Searsport, but in the entire Penobscot Bay region.

Those comments came in the final 30 minutes of a four-hour regular Planning Board meeting that was held Monday night, June 11, at Union Hall.

A regional concern

At about 10:30 p.m., it was time for the public to weigh in on the proposal, which was made by Colorado-based DCP Midstream, and those who addressed the board came from as nearby as Main Street and as far away as Islesboro.

Islesboro Selectman Arch Gillies stated a proposed project that includes "a gigantic chemical tank with a 23-million gallon capacity" is a development that will affect more than just the Searsport community.

"This is a regional project," he said.

Gillies referred to the importance of keeping passable roads in Maine, and the added importance of maintaining open waterways so the island's way to the mainland, the ferry, can continue to serve the community as it always has.

Islesboro attorney Kim Tucker added that the board should conduct a "well-vetted study of the safety problems that could arise from this project," and encouraged the board to seek out Good Harbor Consulting, a Virginia-based company that provides all hazards risk assessments on matters that pertain to security and emergency management.

"We have not been provided a safety plan from DCP," said Tucker. "...We will all be impacted by the tanker traffic."

She noted that along with Islesboro, the city of Belfast and the towns of Stockton Springs and North Haven are among the communities that have recently expressed intentions of asserting their legal standing in the issue.

Tucker said the permit from the Army Corps of Engineers relied on the mutual aid agreements that Searsport has with neighboring towns to act as a safety plan for the project, and Tucker said a permit would not have been granted were it not for those agreements.

Tucker also stated property values are not just a concern on a property-by-property basis, and that plummeting values can impact more than just the host community.

"People don't want to live near a bomb," she said.

Betsy Garrold of Knox read a statement from the Maine Green Independent Party, a group that expressed opposition to the project, based on its belief that local fire departments are not equipped to handle a potential disaster that may occur at the tank site. The party also encouraged the community to move away from fossil fuels, and instead turn attention to developing ways of generating solar and wind power.

Steve Hinchman, legal counsel for Thanks But No Tank, challenged the company assertion that it has adequate title, right and interest in all the property to be used in the development, noting that the purchase and sale contract the company submitted in the application expired April 30.

"There is no evidence of title and interest," he said, asking the board to include that information in the letter it will send to DCP officials regarding what is needed to make the application complete.

Hinchman also urged the board to consider bringing on Good Harbor for an emergency preparedness review, and also asked the board to make more information about the ongoing local permitting process available online.

Thomas Michaels of Camden balked at the company's claim that providing a 3-D model would be cost-prohibitive, noting, "There's kids in your high school who can do that."

As Michaels spoke, DCP attorney Kelly Boden of the Portland-based law firm Verrill Dana approached the microphone and requested the right to respond to some of the public comment, a move that was met with an unfavorable reaction from the crowd. Some told Boden to go to the end of the line of those who were waiting to speak, while others told Boden and those she represented to leave the meeting entirely.

"You've had your time," said one woman. "Now get out!"

Michaels continued his comments, questioning what it will cost neighboring towns to come to the aid of Searsport emergency responders should an accident occur.

"What kind of burden does that put on my community? On Iselsboro?" he said.

Searsport resident Anne Crimaudo suggested the board commission a study on not only the possible impacts on the roads, but also how the increased truck traffic might affect historic buildings in the downtown.

Searsport resident Meredith Ares criticized DCP for decrying the costs of providing more visual simulations like the 3-D model, noting the company "hired people to go door-to-door" to encourage locals to vote against the proposed LPG moratorium at the March town meeting.

"There's no reason why Searsport should have to foot the bill or any of the expenses to defend ourselves against this project," she said.

Searsport businessman Buddy Hall thanked the board for the work they have done so far in the application review process, and encouraged the board to take their time before arriving at a final decision on whether to approve or deny the application.

"I'm at ground-zero," said Hall. "I'm not going to get a do-over."

Traffic, models and sight lines

Much of the meeting included continued discussions between members of the board and representatives from DCP Midstream to determine the completeness of the company's application to the town.

After more than two hours of sifting through Planning Board requirements that have been met or must be met before the application can gain board approval, the board agreed to pass a total of $53,000 in fees for independent consultants on to the developer.

The board agreed to consider using the Old Town-based James Sewall Co. to conduct a study on how the proposed development might affect traffic on Station Avenue, as well as the impact increased truck traffic might have on the road surface. Planning Board Chair Bruce Probert said the study, at a cost to the developer of about $3,000, would take up to two weeks to complete.

Steve Wallace, who, among other duties, conducts visualization impact studies for DCP, took issue with whether the study would consider the maximum amount of daily truck trips that were reflected on the company's original application (144) or the revised figure now reflected in the application (between 12 and 66 vehicles per day).

"The propane truck fleet in Maine is not big enough to have 144 trucks on the road," Wallace said. "...144 is just not a realistic number."

"These are the numbers on the application," said Probert, noting that should a propane shortage hit Maine, for example, it would not be unusual to have additional propane trucks and drivers come in from out-of-state. "It's mathematically possible to do 144. You put it in [the application]."

Wallace said that while 144 additional vehicles a day is possible, it is unlikely. He said basing a study on traffic impacts and potential wear on the local roads on an unlikely scenario is "unreasonable."

Probert suggested the board direct the company to conduct two studies, one reflecting the 144 figure and a second showing impacts using the lower traffic figures the company provided more recently.

The board also considered a bid from Yellow Wood Associates Inc. in Vermont, which carried a $22,000 price tag to critique the DCP-commissioned economic impact study that was completed by University of Southern Maine Economist Charlie Colgan earlier this year. Yellow Wood also submitted an estimated cost of conducting an independent economic impact study for the town, a figure that came in at $73,000.

Planning Board member Mark Bradstreet said the company is booked for the summer and the earliest an independent study could be completed is October or November.

Boden stated the company had already completed an economic impact study and questioned the qualifications of Yellow Wood staff to take on issues such as long-term property value impacts.

"There aren't many of these proposals around," said Probert.

Boden said the company would like to see the qualifications of Yellow Wood staff, particularly in the realm of property value analysis. She also stated that the company would prefer to see the board seek out an alternative firm that might be able to complete the studies sooner.

After some additional discussion, the board agreed to pass a $25,000 expense on to DCP for the purposes of hiring a firm to critique the Colgan report, a figure that was based on the bid from Yellow Wood. The money, explained Probert, would go into an account set up for the DCP application.

"I think $25,000 is really high," said Boden.

"You'll get it back if we don't use it," said Probert.

The board also weighed the benefit of hiring a consultant with New Jersey-based LGA Engineering Inc., a firm that Probert said would provide an engineer to offer an expert opinion on the DCP plans and proposed operation and to be present to answer industry-related questions at the upcoming public hearings.

The board eventually agreed to continue talks with LGA Engineering about the possibility of the firm's providing an engineer.

There was also some talk about whether DCP will provide a three-dimensional model of the proposed project, a visual that the company had initially agreed to create in late 2010. When the board asked Wallace about whether that was indeed going to happen, he indicated the costs and time associated with doing so would be prohibitive.

"We'll get back to you with what we feel we can do with this," said Wallace.

DCP Project Manager David Graham eventually took note of the board's wishes, which was to see a 3-D model from eight visual points in the surrounding area, each from about a half-mile away.

Application deemed incomplete for now

When all was said and done, though, the board voted 5-0 to determine the application remains incomplete, noting the need for the permit from the state fuel board as one of a few reasons for holding off on approving the application.

Boden argued that the permit was not noted as a requirement in the town's Site Plan Review Ordinance, but Planning Board legal counsel Kristin Collins asserted that the permit is a requirement of the related Land Use Ordinance.

Boden also inquired about what a planned "balloon test" was going to accomplish, especially since the company already must submit a 3-D model. The balloon test, which is set to take place either June 21 or 22, uses a balloon to show the actual height of the proposed tank.

"It will show us what it's going to look like from anyplace, not just eight points," said Probert.

The board allowed the company 60 days to get a Maine Fuel Board permit in place.