Letters, Jan. 10
An explosive combination
Despite industry claims, liquid propane gas is dangerous. In the last six weeks alone, seven explosions of tanks, pipelines and trucks have merited media attention.
Major transportation routes were blocked for hours, many residents evacuated, much property destroyed and people injured and killed in communities much like ours scattered through Maine, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia (two), New York and Russia. The latter tanker accident was dramatically captured on YouTube.
DCP Midstream, the Colorado-based company, which seeks to build the largest LPG storage tank on the East Coast in Searsport, has a terrible compliance record. Cursory research reveals that this company paid millions to settle 4,777 air quality permit violations in three plants over five years in New Mexico alone. Texas and the federal Environmental Protection Agency cite similar infractions, principally due to leaks of methane and propane gas. In many instances, rather than respond to notices of violation, DCP simply paid the fine.
Despite repeated promises at the Searsport Planning Board hearings of a safe product handled safely, DCP Midstream’s 2011 Annual Report writes that its business involves considerable risk: “personal injury and/or loss of life, severe damage to and destruction of property and equipment and pollution or other environmental damage…” DCP Midstream takes no responsibility for these kinds of hazards and instead seeks to rely on our small, taxpayer-funded fire departments providing mutual aid in the event of a tragedy. Add insult to injury: its Annual Report openly admits, “In some instances, certain insurance could become unavailable or available only for reduced amounts of coverage, or may become prohibitively expensive, and we may elect not to carry policy.”
Given these facts of LPG safety and DCP Midstream, it is inconceivable to me that the people of Searsport and the surrounding region would consider permitting such an explosive combination in our beautiful Midcoast Maine. Hopefully, all our town officials will attend the final Searsport Planning Board hearings beginning Jan. 16 to ensure the protection of the health and welfare of our communities and our Bay.
A letter to the Searsport Planning Board
I hope you all had a good holiday and were able to spend some time with family and friends after the busy and grueling past few months.
I know that the contents of the Site Plan Review Ordinance are probably as familiar to you by now as the backs of your hands, but I think a few parts of the ordinance are worth emphasizing.
Firstly, the very well-written Purpose in Section 1 is the authorization for you to control negative impacts on our community. If the evidence suggests that a development might threaten the “health, safety and welfare of the community,” this section of the ordinance instructs you to turn down the application. It does not bind you to only the 18 performance standards. Site Plan Review states that the performance standards shall only “serve as minimum requirements for approval of the site plan.”
In addition to the Site Plan Review, Searsport's Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Ordinance are clear about the need to “preserve and protect the integrity of the Town and to continue to make Searsport a great place to live, work and vacation.” (Comprehensive Plan Section K, Land Use)
The comprehensive plan also charges the town with protecting the state's critical natural resources, which include scenic vistas. (Comprehensive Plan Section A, Introduction.) Section E of the plan further says that, “water pollution, high cost and maintenance of public services, and the destruction of existing wildlife and scenic values are just a few of the existing ways that a community ends up paying for improper land use.” (Comprehensive Plan Section E, Natural Resources). Permitted land use in the Industrial District includes light industry. The tank farm at Mack Point was in existence for many years prior to the adoption of our Comprehensive Plan and land use ordinance and was “grandfathered.”
The Land Use Ordinance allows uses of similar impact. A 22.7-million-gallon tank certainly does not have an equivalent impact, nor can it be considered “light” industry.
The proposed LPG facility, even if it met the description of light industry, which it most emphatically does not, also violates Searsport's Land Use Ordinance, as it would extend beyond the boundaries of the Industrial District into a Commercial District, where it is clearly not a permitted use. Imagine if an applicant came before you for a permit for an auto repair shop. The shop itself will be in a commercial district, but part of the parking lot and a small storage building would go beyond the boundary of the commercial district into a residential district.
Under the ordinance, you would treat the proposed development as one entity. The fact that a parking lot and a small shed might be allowed in a residential district is immaterial and would not factor into your decision, as the development would be evaluated as a whole. The same standard should be applied to the LPG facility. Here, DCP is proposing to put critical portions of the essential industrial infrastructure needed to operate this facility into a commercial zone. The fact that DCP does not have sufficient space within the industrial zone to place these components only highlights the fact that this site is simply too small for an LPG facility of this size to safely operate. As a result, granting a permit to DCP would violate the Searsport ordinances named above.
Thank you for considering these points and thank you for your service.
Don't put road safety at risk
I have been going over the Performance Standards of the Site Plan Review again, just as you have been doing, exhaustively. Standards 3, 10 and 11 are particularly relevant to the issue of keeping roads safe, structurally sound and, critically important, clear for the easy access of emergency vehicles to any site. Given the potential for human error leading to either a contained or catastrophic accident at the proposed mega-tank site or one on the road itself, Route 1 would become jammed and/or impassable.
P.S, 3 relates to safe vehicle access or egress from public or private roads, which is significant in the event of any evacuation. Number 10 is the emergency vehicle access standard, which must be guaranteed for the protection of Searsport's citizens, but it cannot be guaranteed when no sufficient or relevant emergency plan is in place. We don't have the equipment or trained manpower to cope with an accident of this potential magnitude, and no reasonable person can claim with scientific accuracy that it will “never” happen. Look at the records of accidents involving LPG over the years, and the startling recent news articles about the ESPN reporter and her serious burns as a result the of fire and explosion using a basic backyard barbecue.
P.S. 11 relates to municipal services which, considering the above paragraph, demonstrates an even greater disparity between what we have for fire department equipment, police department equipment, the mutual aid agreements from surrounding communities, which also lack the sophisticated equipment, and what would actually be needed to ensure the safety of our town and the region.
In addition, all three of these performance standards will be affected by whatever the number of trucks will be that line up to load the LPG, and where that lineup will occur. There does not appear to be much space for trucks along Station Avenue, and we cannot make that determination without a specific, detailed layout of the entire facility, which would obviously include where the trucks will park or line up. DCP Searsport LLC or DCP Midstream, and whatever its parent companies are, have promised scale models and details that are still missing 18 months later. No matter how many permits they have been given by state agencies, they still have to meet the requirements for ours.
Phyllis W. Sommer
Urges attendance at public hearings
There are many things I learned attending the public hearings held in November on the proposed 22.7-milllion-gallon LPG tank in Searsport. If approved by the Planning Board in Searsport, this LPG tank will be the largest of this magnitude on the East Coast of the U.S.
I will share a few things with you:
* Most of the DCP Midstream officials making their case to build the tank live in Colorado — two live in Maine, one in Bremen, the other in Portland.
* DCP Midstream claimed their LPG plants were safe and would pose no threat to the area. One presenter found DCP Midstream had thousands of air quality violations, failures to comply with required safety inspections of pipelines, fires, gas clouds, explosions, injuries, and deaths.
* It was reported that property values will drastically decline the closer the property is to the tank. Angler's Restaurant and Bait's Motel — about 400 feet from the proposed tank, would have practically no value and could not be sold. Many Searsport residents would experience similar losses to their homes and businesses. The tourist industry in Searsport would also decline.
* DCP Midstream indicated that possibly 12 post-construction jobs might be created. However, more than 60 people would lose their jobs when Angler's Restaurant and Bait's Motel were forced to close and other Searsport businesses downsized or closed. The owner of the restaurant and motel indicated that he already has experienced a decline in customers, due to the publicity about the proposed tank.
I strongly urge all residents and business owners in the Midcoast area to attend the public hearings beginning Wednesday, Jan. 16, at the Searsport High School cafeteria, 24 Mortland Rd. The public hearings begin at 7 p.m., but it's best to arrive a half-hour early. The meetings usually end promptly at 9 p.m. They will continue until Jan. 18, or until everyone has completed their presentations.
On Wednesday, Jan. 16, the Good Harbor/Richard A. Clarke analysis will be presented. This study was requested by many individuals and Islesboro Islands Trust to give an all hazard and risk assessment of the proposed LPG installation and operation. This critical and independent analysis of the situation will review natural, accidental, intentional events that could damage the LPG tank and system. The effects this damage would have on the surrounding areas and towns from Castine, Stockton Springs to Rockland and all towns and communities in between will also be explained. The Penobscot Bay and the islands of Islesboro, North Haven, Vinalhaven, Matinicus and possibly others could also experience problems from these events.
The LPG tank is a regional issue, and will affect all of us -- in one way or another -- not just the town and people of Searsport. Please join us and learn how it could affect you.
Left Bank Books says thank you
Among all the things we've been grateful for this holiday season, the city of Belfast, our wonderful customers, and our incredible business neighbors are at the top of the list. We are so grateful to the new and old friends who warmly welcomed us back to Belfast this summer, and who shopped "local and "small" for Christmas. We can't count the number of times customers told us they were specifically choosing to "buy local," and we quickly ran out of ways to say how grateful we are and what an amazing small city we live in.
To all of the friends who supported our shop and other small shops so generously this past month, to everyone at City hall, the Chamber of Commerce and Our Town Belfast, and to our downtown neighbors who so kindly sent people "up the hill and around the corner" to find us, we want express our heartfelt thanks. We feel so happy, so proud and so very lucky to be part of Belfast's book selling scene! With every good wish for a wonderful New Year,
Left Bank Books
Founders didn't envision automatic weapons
To those who fear any gun control legislation would strip them of their weapons. Question: Did you know that when your beloved Second Amendment was written, the only firearm available to citizens was a single-shot, muzzle-loaded musket? To fire, reload and fire again would take the shooter almost as long as it has taken me to print this letter by hand. AK 47 and Busmaster AR15 owners especially might want to think about that.