Nov 23, 2011

Newspaper: Propane proposal pulls protesters to Searsport

Belfast Republican Journal 11/22/11
Propane proposal pulls protesters to Searsport By Steve Fuller | Nov 22, 2011

Photo by: Steve Fuller Many of the people who attended Saturday's protest carried signs showing their opposition to the proposed tank project.

SearsportThe corner of Station Avenue and Route 1 was a busy location Saturday afternoon, Nov. 19, as approximately 100 people held signs, made speeches and otherwise expressed their opposition to a proposal to build a large propane storage tank a stone's throw from where they stood.

Signs seen at Saturday's protest ranged from the straightforward — "No LPG [Liquefied Petroleum Gas] Tank at Mack Point" — to the sensational, such as the sign that asked, "Are your children in the incineration zone?", referring to the area that would be impacted if a fuel storage tank were to blow up.
Organizers estimated the size of the crowd at anywhere from 75 to 100 people, and though the attendance fluctuated throughout the two-hour protest, an informal count seemed to show those figures were accurate.

Peter Wilkinson of Belfast addressed the crowd early on and said he didn't expect so many people would turn out on a cold fall afternoon. He said he hoped the protest would prove to be the first of many in opposition to what he called a "monster tank," one he said "nobody needs and nobody wants."

DCP Midstream, a Colorado-based company, announced almost a year ago that it was interested in building a 137-foot-tall, 22.7-million-gallon tank at Mack Point. The project has been given the green light by both the Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Department of Environmental protection, while approval from other agencies (such as the Coast Guard) is pending.

The Searsport Planning Board has yet to make a decision on the proposal because DCP has yet to file an official application with the town. Although an ordinance change allowing for taller structures was approved at Searsport's annual town meeting in March of this year, some people — Searsport residents, as well as people in neighboring communities and around the Midcoast — believe the project has moved along too quickly, and are now seeking to at least delay any final approval of the project until questions about safety, economic impact and other subjects can be addressed.

In Searsport, residents have started a petition campaign seeking a town vote on whether to impose a moratorium on developments such as the one DCP is proposing. For those living in other communities — only registered voters in Searsport can sign the petition — Saturday's protest allowed them a chance to voice their opinion and express their various concerns about the project.

Some, like Diane Messer of Liberty, spoke about other fossil fuel projects, such as the proposed tar sand pipelines from Canada into the U.S. Messer said she was there in "solidarity" with the tank protesters.

Others, like Searsport resident Daniel Berg, voiced their frustration that most decisions relating to the project were being voted on by appointed officials, rather than elected representatives, or citizens themselves.  "This seems to be a travesty of democracy," said Berg, who said he had contacted the Maine Civil Liberties Union.

Astrig Tanguay, one of the organizers of the "Thanks But No Tank" group and a co-owner of Searsport Shores Campground, spoke about the economic impact the proposed tank might have on Searsport. While DCP has said the project would bring approximately a dozen full-time jobs (and more construction jobs, while the tank was being built), Tanguay and others expressed concerns that existing jobs would be lost due to a decrease in tourism.

She said increased truck traffic and associated safety concerns, in addition to the visual impact of the tank itself, would turn upper Penobscot Bay into an "industrialized zone."
Tourists, Tanguay said, would likely opt to head from Maine's southern beaches to Acadia National Park via Interstate 95, rather than across Route 3 and then along Route 1 through the Midcoast, if the tank were built.

"If we become known as the town with a tank, then people won't bother with Belfast," Tanguay said. "It is definitely an economic issue."

Ron Huber, who has actively campaigned for the preservation of nearby Sears Island and has opposed other large industrial efforts in the past (such as a proposed LNG facility), also spoke Saturday afternoon. Tanguay introduced him as "the guy who got our butts in gear," and he spoke about the importance of natural resources and nearby historic Native American sites.

"People are important," said Huber, acknowledging the concerns previous speakers had expressed about the proposed project's potential impact on humans, "but I'm always here on the side of nature, too."

Reactions to the proposed tank project from other people at Saturday's event included words such as "catastrophic," "horrified" and "disgusting."

Organizers said given the short timeframe in which the protest was planned — about two weeks, using Facebook, photocopied fliers and word-of-mouth — they were pleased with the turnout.
"I think it's a spectacular display of public outrage," said Wilkinson. "It's very significant."

Tanguay said the next step would be to present Searsport selectmen with the petition calling for the moratorium. She anticipated that happening at the next regularly scheduled selectmen's meeting, set for Tuesday, Dec. 6.

Other protests are a possibility, as well. Earlier in the event, when Tanguay cited what she described as a less-than-supportive reaction from State Senator Mike Thibodeau, the suggestion was offered that the next protest could be held in front of Thibodeau's residence in Winterport. Another protester was heard suggesting that Thibodeau be recalled from office.

Although protesters often found themselves standing in the street due to limited space on the shoulder of the road, traffic seemed to flow smoothly as people moved out of the way as needed. Searsport Police Officer Eric Bonney briefly addressed the group midway through the protest, saying his only request was that people stay out of the road.

Noting that Bonney was the only law enforcement official there, Wilkinson quipped that the lawman was outnumbered, but people in attendance generally complied with Bonney's request, and no one seemed to complain about it.

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