Aug 14, 2012

Legal Wrangling Continues over Searsport LPG

From: Island Institute's "Working Waterfront" newspaper. August 2012 edition

Legal Wrangling Continues over Searsport LPG
By Douglas Rooks.

Review of a proposed $40 million, 22.7 million gallon liquefied propane gas (LPG) storage tank is now in the hands of the Searsport Planning Board. But opponents and skeptics of the project still wonder if their concerns will ever be fully addressed.

“There’s a tremendous number of moving parts, and the responses we’ve seen to date tend to raise more questions than they answer," said Steve Miller, executive director of the Islesboro Island Trust——whose organization has not yet taken a position on the project.

Attorney Steve Hinchman represents a local citizens group, Thanks But No Tank, which has concluded that potential harm from the project outweighs any benefits, and appealed issuance of two state permits in Kennebec County Superior Court.
Among the legal issues raised by the group are noise levels, visual and scenic impacts, and the lack of a lighting plan from the developers, DCP Midstream Partners of Denver, Colo.

A brief from the State Attorney General’s oflice says the Department of Environmental Protection acted correctly in issuing the permits. And DEP spokeswoman Samantha DePoy-Warren, said, “Our review of this project . . . was a thorough and thoughtful one and was completely in keeping with the high standards of review that are within our jurisdiction under the Natural Resources Protection Act and the Site Location of Development Act."

DEP did impose several conditions on the permit, including a requirement that DCP Midstream pay $305,835 into a state conservation fund as mitigation for disturbing two acres of wetlands and rerouting a stream.

DePoy—Warren also noted that, although there were 30 written comments, no one requested a public hearing, which could have brought the matter before the Board of Environmental Protection and triggered a more extensive review.

Hinchman conceded that point, but said that BEP hearing requests were only possible for 20 days after DCP Midstream’s application was filed, in April 2011, and that “people in town were just starting to become aware of the size and scope of this project."

DEP issued the permits in September, while the Army Corps of Engi- neers signed off in April of this year.

The project still needs a Maine Fuel Board permit, and will need a federal Environmental Protection Agency permit before operating, but at this point, town review could be the last major step before construction. No Tank’s appeal of DEP’s permit decisions is now before Superior Court Iudge Nancy Mills, who could issue a ruling at any time, since the judge has not requested oral arguments.

But Hinchman is still not convinced that state and federal reviews will adequately consider the impacts. There is, for instance, the issue of public safety. “There are only two LPG storage plants on the East Coast of this magnitude,” he said — in Tampa, Fla., and Norfolk, Va. “And both of them are in heavily industrialized areas remote from homes and retail businesses?

Hinchman wonders how a volunteer fire department like Searsport’s would be able to cope with a major spill or fire. He noted that a spill at a nearby fuel depot required dispatch of a foam truck from Portland.

The tank would be built on 23.6 acres at the northeast corner of the port site, relatively close to Route 1. The Angler restaurant would be a near abutter, something that led its owner to join the No Tank group. A mile—long pipeline will connect the harbor site to the storage tank, which will be 138 feet high, almost three times the height of any existing tank in Searsport. A town height restriction was increased from 50 to 150 feet at a lightly attended town meeting in March 2011, by a vote of 79-66.

Nor do some local residents believe the state has appropriately gauged the impact of truck traffic; initially, all LPG would be moved by trailer, although rail line access is available.

One comment that doesn’t sit well with local residents came from Dave Allen, a DOT traffic engineer, who said at a recent public meeting, “Route 1 has tens of thousands of vehicles going down it every day. No one is even going to notice these trucks." The terminal is expected to operate year-round, 24 hours a day.

For Steve Miller, it is coastal navigational issues that are particularly daunting. In its review of the project, the U.S. Coast Guard recommended that no other vessels be in the shipping lane while LPG tankers are approaching the pier at Searsport. “Managing traffic during the busy summer months could take a lot more sophisticated system than anything that’s in place there now,” he said.

Miller is also disappointed and surprised that the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t require an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project, opting instead for a more abbreviated environmental assessment. “That could still change," he said. “Searsport could still request an ElS."

Miller noted that, in an application for a now-moribund liquefied natural gas plant on Cobscook Bay, the applicant’s EIS said in its alternatives analy- sis that Searsport would be unsuitable for LNG—and, he added, the National Fire Marshal’s office considers LPG to be more hazardous than LNG.

Arch Gillies, an Isleboro selectman, says it’s significant that at least seven neighboring municipalities have written to the Searsport Planning Board raising concerns. “There’s a real sense that this project is a lot bigger than anyone realized when the application was filed last year," he said. “I think that’s starting to sink in.”
But whether that realization will lead to more scrutiny is anyone’s guess. “In the filings, it’s diflicult to see the need for something this large,” Miller said.

“They say there was a propane shortage in Maine in 2007, but that was really more about transportation bottlenecks than supply. It’s hard to argue that all this new infrastructure is really necessary."

Former Maine Times and Kennebec Journal editor Douglas Rocks has been covering Maine issues for 25 years. He lives in West Gardiner.

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