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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 9, 2011

Searsport voters to decide fate of LPG moratorium

Residents express opinions, for and against development
By Tanya Mitchell | Dec 08, 2011
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell Searsport resident Peter Taber addresses selectmen at the Tuesday, Dec. 6 board meeting.

Searsport — Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday, Dec. 6 to place an article in the March 2012 town meeting warrant seeking voter approval of a six-month moratorium on all liquefied petroleum gas related projects.

The petition, which was submitted to the town last week, includes draft language for the moratorium that would span 180 days and would be retroactive to Nov. 23. It would then expire May 20, 2012 unless the town opts to extend it. The petition is in response to a proposal from Colorado-based DCP Midstream, which includes the construction of a 137-foot-tall propane storage tank at Mack Point.

Board chairman Aaron Fethke assured the public that a vote in favor of including a question on the town meeting warrant is the first of many steps involved with enacting a moratorium.

"This isn't a vote to enact, nor is it a stamp of approval or disapproval," he said.

Fethke made the motion to put the question to voters in march, and Selectman Roland LaReau seconded the motion. But before the matter went to a vote, Town Manager James Gillway chimed in about a portion of the draft language that referred to suggested amendments to ordinances being considered at either an annual town meeting or a special town meeting.

Gillway referred to the town's existing land use ordinance, which states ordinance amendments may be adopted or rejected at the annual town meeting and not at a special town meeting.

"It's against the existing ordinance," said Gillway.

Fethke said it was important to note that detail should the moratorium gain voter approval.

Selectman Dick Desmarais expressed concern about the moratorium language because it allows "a group to override selectmen."

After some additional discussion, the motion passed 5-0.

The draft language of the proposed moratorium states that if voters enact the moratorium, the town would be temporarily barred from "accepting applications, processing applications that have already been filed, and issuing approvals and permits relative to any aspect of the development of any LPG terminal and/or storage facility within the Town of Searsport during the term of this moratorium."

The moratorium would allow time for review of existing town ordinances, all of which would be examined by a nine-member independent review committee consisting of three appointees of the Board of Selectmen, three appointees of "Thanks but no Tank" (acting through Searsport resident and businesswoman Astrig Tanguay) and three members randomly drawn from a pool of volunteers who are also registered voters in Searsport.

The topic of the DCP Midstream proposal has triggered a wave of opposition that goes beyond the borders of Searsport, and has been the subject of heated debate between those who oppose the development and those who support it.

Tuesday night's meeting was a continuation of that trend.

As part of his comments to the board, resident Peter Taber asked selectmen and Gillway if town officials had recently been involved in a meeting with DCP Midstream representatives during the week leading up to Thanksgiving.

"I'd like to see the air cleared about this," said Taber, directly asking the board if the meeting took place, and if so, who was present and what was it about.

Gillway said David Graham with DCP Midstream had stopped in at the Town Office during the week of Nov. 14 to ask a question about information the town needed as part of the company's application. At that time, Gillway said Graham asked if the company should site an office in Searsport.

"I wouldn't reply," said Gillway. "I don't have an opinion on that."

Taber also asked if DCP Midstream had ever offered the town any fire equipment or other incentives in an attempt to "bring about a favorable response to them."

Gillway said there had been no discussions about the company providing the town any fire equipment or cash incentives toward any public safety needs. There had been some discussions early on, Gillway said, of adding a water tank to the property where the proposed tank would be built, but that he is unsure if that will remain in the plans because the town has yet to receive a formal application.

Wednesday morning, Searsport Fire Chief Jim Dittmeier said the company has never offered him or the fire department anything in the way of cash or equipment.

Resident David Italiaander told selectmen he is concerned that the port in Searsport may not be prepared for the type of development that DCP Midstream is proposing. Italiaander said he has "over 30 years experience in transporting bulk liquid products," and has shipped "millions of tons of products to and from terminals around the world."

Italiaander said he was alarmed to learn of the fire that broke out during a welding job that was being conducted in an empty fuel tank at the Irving property last summer, describing the event as "the most basic and elemental of errors."

Italiaander stated that when work is being done on a tank that once contained a fuel product, the tank should be filled with nitrogen as part of a practice known as gas freeing.

"Nitrogen won't burn or support combustion and it forces any volatiles and oxygen out of the tank," he said. "Weld away. You can't start a fire without oxygen. It's called gas freeing the tank, and you always do it. It's basic. You see these types of accidents in third-world countries where literacy and education is a problem, not here."

What happened at the irving facility, Italiaander stated, "shows a breakdown in education, training and management oversight that gives me little confidence that Mack Point Terminal is capable of offloading 30,000 tons of LPG at a time without incident."

Speaking about the DCP Midstream proposal, Italiaander stated he did not support such a development.

"Speaking on behalf of my wife and myself, no thanks," he said.

While many area residents have been outspoken about their opposition to the potential project in recent weeks, residents Faith and Don Garrold countered those opinions with their own words of protest.

In the written statement that Faith Garrold had prepared for the board, she stated that while she supported the right of citizens to petition, she was speaking "to protest the item on the agenda this evening to accept the current petition for an ordinance granting a moratorium on an industry willing to come to Searsport at a time when our state wide economy badly needs new sources of energy."

She further questioned the "legality of an ordinance that takes the authority to appoint a 'Review Committee' away from the Selectmen whom we have elected to govern the town." Faith Garrold also took issue with allowing the review committee to potentially alter the comprehensive plan and associated ordinances and decide what is and is not adequate protection for the town.

"A process is in place for reviewing or changing ordinances and and creating moratoriums on conducting the town's business is not part of that process," she said.

Later in the meeting, Don Garrold stated, "I have always supported the rule of the majority" since he moved to town in 1978 and that he has "never felt the need to carry a sign or picket" in order to have his voice heard. And, he added, he's always felt comfortable speaking for himself.

"I have never felt like I needed to bring in people from long distances to support my views," he said.