Islands seek impact analysis for proposed Searsport propane terminal

By Shlomit Auciello | Feb 22, 2012
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell Searsport resident Tom Gocze, at microphone, addresses selectmen Jan. 17 about his concerns regarding the size and scope of the proposal from DCP Midstream to construct a 22.7-million-gallon liquefied petroleum gas storage tank at Mack Point. In the foreground is a scale model of the 137-foot-tall tank, as well as a nearby Irving tank and Angler's Restaurant, a model that Gocze built. DCP Midstream representatives dispute the accuracy of the model.

The Islesboro and North Haven boards of selectmen have voted unanimously to ask the Army Corps of Engineers for “a fair and thorough” environmental impact study of a proposal — by Colorado-based DCP Midstream — to construct a 22.7-million-gallon liquefied petroleum gas storage tank at Mack Point before issuing a decision on pending permits, a Feb. 16 press release said. The release was issued by the Islesboro Board of Selectmen with the assistance of the Islesboro Islands Trust.

At the Feb. 14 regular meeting of the North Haven Board of Selectmen, all five selectmen voted in favor of sending a letter expressing concern about the effect the LPG terminal may have on the island's commercial fishermen and other island and Midcoast businesses to Jay Clement at the Army Corps of Engineers office in Manchester. That letter was sent Feb. 21.

North Haven resident and Maine Chapter Sierra Club chairwoman Becky Bartovics suggested selectmen send the letter before the period for public comment closes on Feb. 28. The Army Corps of Engineers is the lead regulatory agency on the project.

The Islesboro Board of Selectmen met Feb. 15 and agreed to send a similar letter to Clement. Board chairwoman Susan Schnur said that she was especially concerned about safety issues. The letter the Islesboro board agreed to send said, in part, “The possibility that the proposed LPG terminal and tank will diminish the scenic value, recreational opportunities and economic viability of our marine and second-home-related businesses, which this proposal clearly represents, is troubling.”

The letter said further, “A full EIS would provide more, better and sorely needed information about possible alternatives to the current large-scale proposal, about the economic impact on current businesses in the region, about whether this particular facility is needed, and about environmental effects of the LPG terminal, especially on valuable scenic resources. A public hearing on the proposal is also essential.”

North Haven Town Administrator Joseph Stone on Feb 16 said that a fact sheet provided by Islesboro Islands Trust, “was significantly persuasive that it convinced the North Haven Board of Selectmen to send [a letter] of their own.”

He said the boards are concerned about the scale of the project, its “obvious environmental impact” and the fact that the tank's contents must be kept at minus 40 degrees.

“There will be regular flare-offs,” he said. “If it ever blew up most of the Midcoast would disappear with it.”

“The absence of an EIS seems astonishing, given the scale of the project and how relatively benign projects, such as as wind turbines, undergo exhaustive review,” said Stone. “We have to go through an environmental review just to rebuild our 120-year-old bridge because it's going to take up an additional 4,000-square-feet of mudflats.”

Island response mirrors mainland concerns

Opponents of the proposal have accused the company of paying residents to influence the results of the upcoming moratorium vote and presenting “fraudulent” information. Another accusation, made at a Jan. 26 meeting in Searsport, was based on the presentation of enlarged, digitally enhanced images showing what the tank might look like from various points around town. Resident Peter Taber took issue with their accuracy, particularly with one that appeared late last year in a full-page advertisement in the Bangor Daily News that showed the proposed tank at the same width as the tanks that already exist at Mack Point. The project plans, Taber said, show the proposed tank would be nearly twice as wide as the existing tanks on the waterfront. The LPG facility would be built alongside existing port operations on the Searsport waterfront.

More than 200 people packed into Union Hall in Searsport Jan. 26 to hear a presentation from representatives of DCP Midstream.

Searsport selectman Doug Norman raised questions, at that board's Feb. 7 meeting, about whether jobs related to the project would benefit local workers.

"I asked a question about jobs and I don't think I got an adequate answer," said Norman. "They only said how many jobs would be available... When I asked what their definition of community employment is, they did not answer."

At the Jan. 26 informational meeting, DCP Midstream officials said it is preferable to hire local people to fill 12 to 15 permanent jobs and an estimated 100 construction positions, but Norman said he wanted to know if applicants from Bangor or Portland would be considered just as local as a Searsport resident.

Norman said DCP Midstream Chief Operating Officer Chris Lewis told him employment laws bar the company from discriminating against any job applicants based on race, gender, or in this case, town of residence.

"I'm bringing this up because a lot of people support this because they think they can get a job, and that might be the case, I certainly hope they do," said Norman. "But there are no guarantees."

A job fair for the project has been scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 29, 4-8 p.m., at Union Hall on the second floor of the Searsport Town Office building.

Residents have also expressed concern over the ability of the town's volunteer fire department and emergency responders to adequately protect the public in the event of a large-scale emergency.

Anna Kessler, Astrig Tanguay and Betty Schopmeyer have been conducting a review of the town's emergency plan.

Kessler said the plan has limited information about hazards and toxic materials that are already existent in the town's port operations and being transported along Route 1. The plan, she said, does little to inform residents about the existing on-site materials, the risks involved or what the public can do to prepare for an emergency involving hazardous materials.

In addition, Kessler said, the town has no detailed warning system for alerting residents of an emergency or pending evacuation. She referred to a fire that broke out at one of the tanks at the Irving Oil facility last summer, and how despite the response of seven towns and additional equipment that was brought to the scene, it took several hours to put out the fire.

Town Manager James Gillway reminded the public that town Emergency Management Director Almon "Bud" Rivers is in the process of reviewing the town's emergency plan.

Comments in regard to the proposed DCP Mainstream tank project may be mailed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Maine Project Office at 675 Western Ave #3, Manchester, ME 04351. Those wishing to comment on the project may also contact Project Manager Jay Clement at 623-8367 or visit the website at nae.usace.army.mil.

The Gazette reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by email at sauciello@villagesoup.com. VillagesSoup Journal reporter Tanya Mitchell contributed to this story.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.