Board grants 'interested party' status to several DCP challengersPublic hearings to continue this week
Searsport — In the first of four scheduled public hearings about a proposal to construct a 22.7-million-gallon liquefied petroleum gas terminal at Mack Point, the Searsport Planning Board gave some opponents of the project the right to participate in the hearings as "interested parties."
Also at the first public hearing, which took place Monday night, Nov. 26, the Board voted that the project applicant, Colorado-based DCP Midstream, has met the Board's requirements and that the review process can move forward for the application. The Board also agreed that DCP Midstream has standing to apply, and that the Board has jurisdiction to review the application.
More than 150 people packed into the cafetorium at Searsport District High School to learn about and weigh in on the proposal, as did several members of the Searsport Police Department.
Planning Board attorney Kristin Collins explained in order to be granted status as an interested party, as opposed to a member of the general public, a group or individual must demonstrate that the project would impact them in a specific way that differs from other residents, groups or business owners. Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert later explained that any person or group that attains interested party status could cross-examine the applicant, its consultants or any others who are presenting information on the project.
"You get to sit in the box seats," said Probert, referring to the first few rows of seating reserved for those with interested party status.
A number of groups and individuals applied for the status, and at one point DCP attorney James Kilbreth cautioned the Board about the number of entities that might be able to obtain it.
"You have to think about what this is going to look like and how many nights we're going to spend doing this," he said.
"I'd like to have people express themselves," said Probert. "... I would prefer to err on the side of letting people speak if they wish to speak."
Chief among those granted interested party status was the locally organized coalition of residents and business owners known as Thanks But No Tank (TBNT). Speaking on behalf of the organization was TBNT attorney Steve Hinchman, who told Probert his clients were willing to allow him to present the arguments of others who might seek and obtain interested party status as well as TBNT.
Kilbreth said Hinchman's proposal was agreeable to the company, but added, "We do reserve our rights to object to non-Searsport people."
That comment drew a rumble of groans from some in the audience, as did a later comment from Kilbreth in which he stated, "In our view, this is not a regional issue. It's a Searsport issue."
Islesboro Island Trust (IIT) is a land conservation group that has expressed opposition to the proposal because the shipping routes the LPG tankers would use to get to Mack Point pass by the island. Also, the development could be seen from parts of the island, and Steve Miller of IIT argued that his group should be considered an abutter.
Also granted interested party status was Buddy Hall, owner of Angler's Restaurant and Bait's Motel, who was present Monday night but was represented by his attorney, Ed Bearor. Hall's businesses neighbor the proposed development site, and Bearor argued that the project could devalue his client's property.
The Board also supported a request for standing from Marietta Ramsdell, who represented Friends of Sears Island (FOSI). Ramsdell said FOSI is a nonprofit group that acts as a steward for the 601 acres of Sears Island that are held in a conservation easement. Ramsdell contended that the project could hurt tourism, as she said people from all over Maine and beyond visit the island for its recreational opportunities and wild environment. She also expressed concern about pollution that could come with the development.
Also granted interested party status were Penobscot Bay River and Pilots Association, Searsport business owners Phyllis Sommer, James and McCormick Economy and David Italiaander. The Board also granted the status to Liberty resident Diane Messer, who plans to draw on her 20-plus years of experience in the military with a particular focus on emergency and disaster planning in her testimony.
Some who sought the status as individuals, like Christpher Hyk of Belfast, who sought to represent concerns about recreational use of the bay, and Searsport resident Ann Flack, who wished to represent local retirees, agreed not to seek status, but instead to consolidate their presentations with that of TBNT.
The Board denied interested party status to a few others who requested it, including Arlene Leighton of Lincolnville and Joelle Madiec of Stockton Springs. Each of those women sought to express their concerns about the project on behalf of some of their neighbors.
The remainder of the three-hour-plus meeting consisted of some disagreement between Hinchman and DCP attorney Chandler Lippett, with Hinchman contending that the company has a draft permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection for the pipeline that will allow LPG to be transferred from ships to the proposed storage tank. As he has at past meetings, Hinchman cited town ordinances stating that an applicant must have all permits in place before the review process can go forward.
While Collins said she agreed with Hinchman's interpretation of the ordinance requirement, she said the Board could continue with the review if those issues are pending.
"I'm assuming this permit will be issued," Collins said.
Hinchman also argued that the company does not have clear title, right and interest on all of the property the company plans to use for the pipeline route, noting that portions of the pipeline would cross through property that is under the ownership of other entities, including the Maine, Montreal and Atlantic Railroad, land which MMARR has granted Sprague Energy the right to cross through for its operations.
Lippett and Sprague Energy Vice President of Materials Handling Jim Therriault explained that DCP would use Sprague's existing rights to run the pipeline route through the railroad property. Hinchman questioned Sprague's ability to give that allowance to another entity like DCP, but Therriault said such practices are not unusual.
"I have had this specific discussion with the railroad as soon as today," said Therriault. "We have the right to partially assign those rights."
The public hearings are slated to continue through Thursday, Nov. 29. All of the hearings will be held at SDHS and are set to begin at 6 p.m.