Board braces for lengthy process as hearings reconveneGood Harbor study advises against proceeding with project
Searsport — Searsport Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert said even after the series of public hearings for a proposed liquefied petroleum gas storage tank at Mack Point concludes, the board can expect to put in a few more long nights before it can decide to either grant or deny the project application.
Three nights of public hearings on the proposal from Colorado-based DCP Midstream to construct the 22.7-million-gallon LPG tank that are scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 16, Thursday, Jan. 17, and Friday, Jan. 18, are a continuation of five nights of public hearings the board scheduled during a week in November to receive public input about the project.
While there was some confusion about the start time for this week's hearings, Probert confirmed that each session will span from 6 to 9:30 p.m. and all will take place at Searsport District High School.
Probert said the hearings would likely begin with the presentation of an all risks hazards assessment study from Good Harbor Techmark, a study that Islesboro Island Trust commissioned last fall. The study from the consulting firm owned by counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke was released Monday, Jan. 14, and the report recommended “not proceeding with the project as currently proposed." The report concludes that the Searsport Planning Board must deny the LPG permit applications submitted by DCP.
The study additionally identifies risks and vulnerabilities in the proposed project design, and finds that “both landside and maritime emergency response resources are currently inadequate to support major Liquid Propane Gas incident management activities.”
Findings supporting the recommendation to deny the permits are as follows:
• An independent blast analysis, which found that under a variety of accident scenarios, an explosion or leak at the terminal would cause lethal and devastating impacts to nearby homes and businesses, and to travelers on Route 1;
• The lack of a cost-sharing plan, which could transfer significant project costs from the developer to local communities;
• Gaps in current regulations, which leave citizens and businesses unprotected;
• Insufficient depths in the Searsport harbor and at the existing pier, which will require expensive and environmentally damaging dredging before oceangoing Liquid Propane Gas ships can safely access the port.
Clarke also cautioned regulators to look carefully at dramatic recent changes in global energy prices, which are leading industry to convert import terminals into export facilities.
Next up at the hearings will be the remaining presentations from Thanks But No Tank, Probert said, one of several groups awarded interested-party status at the last series of public hearings. Probert said DCP Midstream representatives also plan to present additional information at the hearings, and there will likely be more questions from the board for all parties involved.
"And we still have many comments coming from the general public," said Probert.
Probert said there was "a 50-50 chance or less" that all of the business regarding the DCP application would be completed during this week's hearings. Should that be the case, Probert said, the board would schedule two more nights of hearings Monday, Jan. 28, and Tuesday, Jan. 29.
Leaving a week in between public hearings, said Probert, will allow time for interested parties and the applicant to go over information provided at this week's hearings and perhaps prepare responses or questions in response.
Once the hearings conclude, said Probert, the applicant and interested parties — many of which opted to consolidate their presentations with the local opposition group Thanks But No Tank — will have 10 days to submit briefs before the Board moves into the application review phase.
Then, Probert said, it's up to the Planning Board to decide whether the project application fits within the parameters set forth in town ordinances. Probert said that phase in the process will involve a lot of work on the part of the Board, particularly since the project proposal has generated more than 2,500 pages of correspondence, state and federal permit documentation and the project application itself, which is in excess of 750 pages in length.
"We'll probably have to have consecutive nights," said Probert. "... We have to sit down and go through the stuff in the ordinances and in the performance standards, then we make a decision."
Probert said the decision would likely come before the annual town meeting in March, but there are other aspects of the overall planning process that must also be addressed.
Probert said the Board is also considering a request from the town Zoning Board of Appeals to clarify the procedure to be followed when appealing a Planning Board decision, an undertaking that will mean amending existing ordinance language about the appeals process, public hearings and a special town meeting to approve the changes. If the changes are approved at the special town meeting, Probert said, they would be retroactive, so they would apply to any appeals to decisions about the DCP application.
"Right now, they all use different language to describe the appeals process," said Probert.
There must also be clarification to ordinance language detailing whether the Appeals Board must start from scratch and consult with new experts and gather new testimony on an application, or if the appeal can be considered based on the work the Planning Board has already done on an application.
"We have to make sure we're all going in the right direction," said Probert.