Clarke a no-show, Good Harbor staff fields safety questions
Searsport — Counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke was unable to testify against the proposal from DCP Midstream as planned, but members of his staff were available to answer questions about security, the need for more public safety resources and emergency preparedness Monday night, Feb. 11.
Monday night's Searsport Planning Board hearing was the second time Clarke's plans to attend a public hearing on the Colorado company's plans to construct a 22.7-million-gallon liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tank at Mack Point fell through because of adverse weather. Clarke was originally scheduled to attend a hearing last month, but a winter storm prevented him from traveling to Searsport and his testimony was rescheduled for Monday night.
In Clarke's stead, Frank Gallagher and Mike Lucy of Good Harbor Techmark, who co-authored the All Hazard Risk Assessment for the project, advised members of the Searsport Planning Board to deny DCP Midstream's application. That finding, they said, was based on several factors, chief among them being that the site is too small and is too close to residences and Route 1 and the town and surrounding communities do not have adequate resources to respond to a large-scale incident at the site.
Lucy said because most towns rely on mutual aid agreements as a way to share resources, the assertion that the project would not bring added costs to the public safety lines in local municipal budgets is false.
"We disagree with that," said Lucy.
Not only would towns have to upgrade firefighting equipment and send local emergency crews to specialized training sessions, Lucy said, it could mean firefighters might have less time to undergo training on topics like fighting a house fire.
Dealing with these kinds of issues after the project application is approved and relying on verbal agreements, said Lucy, is not the best approach for a project of this size and scope.
"We saw a lot of 'we'll talk about that later,'" said Lucy. "... Something is going to get missed down the road."
The Good Harbor team members further stated that the creation of safety plans directly relating to the project should not be put off until after the necessary permits are granted.
Lucy said that while there are a lot of safety mechanisms in place at a plant like the one DCP is proposing, it is important to consider what could happen in the worst case scenario so the community is prepared in the event of an accident at the site. Most often, Lucy said, it's the unexpected events — such as possible terrorist attacks or extreme weather — that can cause something to go wrong with plant operations.
"You have to plan for the worst, you have to be ready for that," said Lucy.
Searsport Planning Board alternate Lee-Ann Horowitz asked for more specifics on what kinds of incidents were more likely to occur.
"What are the most likely scenarios of something happening? What's more likely than [a rocket propelled grenade] or terrorist attack?" she said.
Lucy said issues such as a ruptured pipe, a defective valve or an improperly used hose could all start a chain of events that could cause an accident at the site. The more likely problem, said Lucy, is the presence of human beings.
"The accidental risk with the introduction of humans, quite frankly, screws things up," said Lucy.
Lucy and Gallagher also raised questions, based on the findings in their report that arose from meetings with local and county emergency management officials, about who would pay for the necessary upgrades in fire equipment and training for emergency responders. They also posed questions about how neighbors of the site would safely escape the area in the event of a disaster if emergency responders were also using Route 1 to access the scene.
DCP Midstream attorney James Kilbreth questioned why Good Harbor used worst-case scenarios in its assessment, rather than situations most would consider being on the order of everyday occurrences. Lucy and Gallagher stated, however, that just because the study was commissioned by Islesboro Island Trust does not mean the study was not approached in a neutral way.
"We're trying to help you all understand the situation as much as possible," said Lucy.
At the start of the hearing, Kilbreth moved to exclude the Good Harbor report from the record, but after some discussion the Planning Board voted 5-0 to deny the motion from the company.
Residents also heard from Coast Guard Capt. Alan Moore, who said his agency recognizes that there are risks involved with LPG, and stated that his agency would work with emergency responders in Searsport and surrounding communities to create a plan to reduce those risks. While there is no federal or state mandate requiring neighboring towns to participate, Moore said he "would like to think" those municipalities would join in on forging that emergency plan.
The public hearings are scheduled to continue at Searsport District High School Tuesday night, Feb. 12, at 6 p.m.