Feb 27, 2013

Searsport tank hearings: Opponents decry vote to close public comment session

Republican Journal                             February 27, 2013

Searsport tank hearings
Opponents decry vote to close public comment session
Baldacci denies DCP claims regarding origin of proposal
By Tanya Mitchell

David Italiaander of Searsport (foreground, at left) joins several members of the public in a collective display of signs reading "we will not be silenced" as they protest the closure of the public hearings regarding the proposal from DCP Midstream at Searsport District High School Monday, Feb. 25.  Tanya Mitchell photo 

Members of the public lined up from the microphone set up at the front of the room all the way back to the entrance door of the Searsport District High School cafetorium as they awaited their chance to comment Monday night

Searsport — "We will not be silenced!"
That was how some members of the public reacted to a vote by the Searsport Planning Board to close the oral testimony portion of the public hearings regarding a proposal from Colorado-based DCP Midstream to construct a 22.7-million-gallon liquefied petroleum gas storage tank and terminal at Mack Point.

The board made that call by a vote of 3-1 — with Mark Bradstreet opposed — as the clock struck 9:30 p.m., signaling the end of the public hearing process, which, as of Monday, Feb. 25, had spanned 11 days since the hearings opened in November.

As Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert called for the vote, some in the crowd immediately responded with objections to the motion. Some asked the Board if the hearings could be continued, to which Probert replied they could not.

Thanks But No Tank attorney Steven Hinchman requested that his objection to the closure of the hearings be added to the formal record, and Probert stated, "You can put it any way you want, you can put it in writing. Now it comes down to a Planning Board vote."

Probert also encouraged others in the crowd who wished to comment on the application to submit their thoughts in writing.

Some members of the public continued to voice their objection to closing the hearings, and some displayed signs that read, "We will not be silenced."

As Planning Board attorney Kristen Collins advised the board to vote on upcoming deadlines for written comments, informational submissions and responses, she worked to speak over some members of the public.

Peter Taber of Searsport accused the board of conducting the hearings with "DCP's time line in mind" instead of that of the public, some of whom he said had attended the hearings and had yet to speak before the Board. Probert told Taber he was out of order, adding that his statement was incorrect.

"I am a Searsport resident, and I have not been able to speak," yelled a woman in the audience.

Collins reminded the crowd that the DCP application hearings allowed the Board to consider "an unprecedented amount of public input," but some in attendance continued to express displeasure at the Board's decision.

At one point a woman stood and told the Board they were "in DCP's pocket," a comment Probert responded to immediately.

"You don't know what you're talking about, young lady," said Probert. "We have a stack of letters three feet high."

With that, Probert and members of the board started to leave the Searsport District High School cafetorium as some in the crowd began chanting, "purchased Board."

Searsport resident Ben Crimaudo read a Jan. 29 letter from former Gov. John E. Baldacci. In it, Baldacci disputed previous claims from DCP representatives, who have stated they brought the tank proposal to Searsport as a result of a propane shortage in the winter of 2007.

Police officers who were in attendance at the hearing escorted members of the DCP staff and company attorneys out of the cafetorium as some in the crowd encouraged those in attendance to remain seated in the cafetorium in protest of the hearing closure.

Baldacci letter offers different take on 2007 fuel shortage
During the two-and-a-half hours of public comment, 26 people addressed the board. None who spoke expressed support for the project.

Ben Crimaudo of Searsport called attention to a letter from former Gov. John E. Baldacci dated Jan. 29 and addressed to the Planning Board. In the letter, Baldacci disputed previous claims from DCP representatives, who have stated they have brought the proposal to Searsport as a result of a propane shortage in the winter of 2007.

In the letter, Baldacci stated that the combination of a Canadian rail strike, a delayed tanker vessel and frigid temperatures led to "a temporary shortage of propane in our state."

Baldacci said he reached out to many energy companies at the time, DCP being one of them. While the company's assistance was appreciated, Baldacci backed away from statements company representatives had made about the fuel shortage being the catalyst for the current proposal.

"Since that time no one from that company has ever talked to me about the LPG import terminal and storage tank proposals," stated Baldacci. "I have questions about a proposed 14-story, 22.7-million-gallon liquefied propane/petroleum gas tank terminal. Frankly, I shy away from propane. It is an expensive fuel for Mainers. I see the trend moving towards less expensive natural gas."

In closing, Baldacci stated he would continue to watch the deliberations about the project going forward, and encouraged the Board to "keep the safety and well-being of the public in mind above all other considerations."

Public questions impacts on safety, taxes, quality of life
Searsport resident Ann Flack presented the Board with a petition that carried more than 5,000 signatures from people all over Maine and beyond, expressing opposition to the project. Flack said while about a quarter of those who signed on are people who live out of state but love to visit Midcoast Maine, many were residents of the Pine Tree State.

"This petition clearly demonstrates this is not just a Searsport issue," she said. "...Many of the petitioners live, work and raise families in Midcoast Maine."

Jan Dodge of Belfast advised the board to look at the property tax hike Searsmont residents are now experiencing a few years after Maritime Northeast constructed a pump station and pipeline in town. Residents saw a temporary drop in the mil rate that went from about $17 to $13 per thousand of valuation, she said. But once the state valuation caught up with the new development in 2012, taxpayers in Searsmont heard their town assessor explain that the mil rate would likely jump from $18.30 to as high as $21 per thousand.

"Searsport might suffer a similar fate," said Dodge. Dodge also told the Board the Searsmont Town Office staff and assessor were willing to speak with the Planning Board about the experiences in their town.

Terry Fisher of Montville, a retired Maryland State Trooper who spent half her career working for the commercial vehicle enforcement division, advised the Board to consider the safety implications of allowing additional trucks carrying hazardous materials onto Route 1.

"If you think the trucking industry is going to police itself, you're dead wrong," she said.

Lew McGregor of Hope said he does many types of work to earn a living, and all would be impacted if the tank were to be constructed. McGregor said as a sailing teacher, he feared the project could threaten use of Penobscot Bay. As a school bus driver, he expressed concern about sharing the roads with trucks carrying LPG.

McGregor said his third occupation may do quite well if the project is approved — he also builds coffins.

"So maybe things will work out," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum thanked the Board for the work it has completed on the proposed development to date and said that while the City Council has concerns about the operation, maintenance and overall safety of the facility, the city is committed to continuing its working relationship with Searsport.
"The Council itself is very mindful of your authority, of Searsport's authority," said Slocum. "... As your friends and neighbors, we wish you the very best of luck in your deliberations."

Jean Russell of Searsport said her home abuts the proposed site of the project. Russell spoke of how she and her late husband bought what is now the Seascape Motel and Cottages in Belfast in 1964, and how the two purchased their Long Cove property in 1968 and additional land with road frontage in 1976. In the 1980s, Russell said, they started working with the railroad company to obtain the rights to cross the tracks to access their property, and also arranged to have town water lines extend under the tracks to their home.

They moved into their home in 1990, but Russell's husband died in 1992. Some of her friends advised her to leave the home and move closer to friends in Belfast, but she refused. Now, Russell said, the real estate analysis from local Realtor Elaine Tucker shows the proposal from DCP will significantly decrease the value of her home. Russell said the idea of living that close to the tank and terminal also has her concerned about safety risks.

Before her husband died, Russell said, he expressed pleasure at the idea that she would "be safe in the home we built."

Now, Russell said, she wonders how long that will be the case.
"Will I and others be safe if you approve the application from DCP?" she asked the Board.

Entering the next phase
In the midst of the outcry over the vote to close the hearings, the Board agreed to set several deadlines pertaining to the next phase of its mission to decide whether to deny or approve the project application.

By a vote of 4-0, the Board agreed to keep the record open through Monday, Mar. 4, for all written comments and until Monday, Mar. 11, for all interested parties to respond to any new information that might be added to the record. Any briefs from said parties will be due by Friday, Mar. 22.

At the start of Monday's hearing, Probert also specified that after Monday night, no further changes or amendments to the application would be permitted going forward.

The Board will begin its deliberations on whether to approve or deny the application Wednesday, Mar. 27. That meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will take place at Union Hall.

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