DCP gets cool reception during project presentation
Searsport — DCP Midstream officials presented details regarding the company's proposal to construct a 22.7-million-gallon liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) terminal at Mack Point Tuesday, Nov. 27, and on several occasions, the testimony drew audible laughter and jeers from some of the approximately 200 people in the audience.
Tuesday night was the second of four public hearings the Searsport Planning Board has scheduled in order to review the application and also gauge public sentiment about the project.
The company presented testimony from several members of its staff and expert witnesses during its nearly two-hour presentation, and much of the information it provided dealt with safety concerns and visual impacts. DCP representatives also spoke to why the company chose to bring the project to Searsport.
Don Baldridge, the company's senior vice president of marketing, said the company first considered building a facility in Searsport after getting a call for help from then-Gov. John E. Baldacci in 2007.
"The issue was, the supply of propane coming into the state was disrupted due to a disruption in the rail service," he said, noting that Baldacci sought at that time to increase the propane supply for the state. "That really sparked the development of this project."
DCP attorney Kelly Boden said the company has been pleased to receive the kind of support it's had from residents in town who are interested in seeing the project move forward. She referred to the first town meeting vote in March 2011 that increased the height restriction in the town Land Use Ordinance from 60 to 150 feet, a move that allowed DCP to bring its proposal for a 138-foot-tall LPG storage tank to the town. Then, in March 2012, said Boden, the townspeople voted by a margin of nearly two to one to reject a proposed moratorium that would have put the application process on hold for 180 days. Most recently, Boden said, the company submitted a petition to the Planning Board that contained the signatures of more than 600 residents who say they are in favor of the development.
"These signatures evidence the substantial majority support for the project," she said.
Boden also noted that adding to existing shipping activities at Mack Point was the preferable option to locals who fought to prevent development on Sears Island, and that the town's comprehensive plan already allows for industrial developments in that particular zoning district. A tank farm already exists next to the proposed construction site, and having access to the existing pier and rail line would reduce any environmental impacts the project might have created otherwise.
Boden also told the board what it does not have to decide.
"You do not have to decide if this project is acceptable to people in surrounding towns," she said, a comment that drew groans from some in the crowd.
Show me the money
Following the company presentation, members of the board and groups and individuals to whom the board granted interested party status Monday night spent the remainder of the meeting asking questions about the project.
One of the questions company officials addressed concerned liability, an issue that was broached by Thanks But No Tank attorney Steve Hinchman. In previous meetings, Hinchman had questioned whether DCP was using various limited liability corporations to shield investors from financial responsibility in the event of a disaster.
Baldridge said the official applicant, DCP Searsport LLC, has "the full backing" of DCP Midstream Partners, and that DCP Searsport would have access to the parent company's $1 billion line of credit.
Later in the meeting, Hinchman pressed Baldridge on whether DCP would cover the costs of damages resulting from a large-scale accident at the facility.
"Yes or no, will you pay 100 percent of the cost of the damages?" asked Hinchman.
Baldridge agreed that the company would do so, and explained that all DCP companies are covered by insurance that would cover damages if an accident were to occur.
"I want to ensure that if an accident does happen, all of the affected parties, including my clients, they have someone to go to with the deep pockets necessary to make them whole," Hinchman said.
DCP attorney James Kilbreth objected to Hinchman's line of questioning, and stated that the company should only engage in such a discussion if the Board poses such questions.
"As an interested party, I have the right to ask questions and receive answers," said Hinchman.
"You've received the answers you're going to get," said Kilbreth, which triggered boos and jeers from some in attendance.
An 'impossible' scenario
One of the expert witnesses who testified for the company was Dr. Phani Raj, who identified himself as an LPG and liquefied natural gas industry expert. As part of his testimony, Raj said worries some locals have expressed about a boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (also known as a BLEVE) are unfounded.
“A BLEVE of the main storage tank is impossible,” he said.
Raj said that's because a fire would have to be left to burn all the way around the entire tank in order for that scenario to occur. Government regulations dictate that there must be emergency systems in place that would divert any leaked fuel to a 500-foot-deep storage dike some distance away from the tank, said Raj, a safety measure designed to avoid the possibility of the tank's being exposed to fire.
"And if the entire tank drains out there's nothing left to explode," he said.
Also speaking about safety was DCP Midstream New England Asset Director Jeffrey Hurteau. He said in the event of a power failure the system is designed to release excess vapors that would build up as the temperature in the refrigerated storage tank rose. The LPG inside the tank is typically kept at a temperature of minus 45 degrees, and in a power outage the vapors are diverted to an emergency flare to remove them and thereby prevent the buildup of pressure in the tank.
Hurteau said that when Hurricane Sandy hit parts of the East Coast earlier this month, the storm caused a three-day power outage at the company's Chesepeake, Va., terminal. Because of the precautionary measures employees took ahead of time and the safety features already in place at the plant, Hurteau said, there were "no damages, no problems." Hurteau said the flare operated for about 10 hours per day throughout the duration of the outage.
The flare, said Hurteau, is something the company would use sparingly.
"We don't want to use that flare," he said. "... We're losing money, we're losing revenue."
The public hearings are scheduled to continue Wednesday, Nov. 28, and Thursday, Nov. 29, although Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert indicated the sessions could continue for an additional day.
"Don't make a lot of plans for Friday night," said Probert as the hearing concluded.
The hearings are being held at Searsport District High School, and all are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.