Public comment issue arises at board meeting
Searsport — Questions that have arisen regarding public comment at a recent Searsport Planning Board meeting were addressed again Tuesday night, June 19, when a resident brought his concerns to the attention of selectmen during the board's own public comment period.
Searsport resident Peter Taber, who has publicly expressed his opposition to a proposed 22.7-million-gallon liquefied petroleum gas storage tank at Mack Point, informed selectmen of both the good things and the negative aspects of what he said he observed at the Monday, June 11, Planning Board meeting.
"Unfortunately, the Planning Board chose to put the interests of DCP Midstream ahead of a good number of people, not only from our town, but people from as far away as North Haven," said Taber.
Taber said that because the board voted to move the "open to the public" session to the end of the meeting, after company representatives and the board concluded the ongoing review of the 700-page application, some in attendance were "denied the opportunity" to speak to the pending application. The meeting, which spanned more than four hours, included less than an hour of discussion regarding a restaurant application, followed by more than two hours of back-and-forth between the company and the Planning Board. At about 10:30 p.m., the public was invited to speak for no more than 30 minutes overall, and individual comments were limited to a few minutes each.
"They just couldn't hang on that long," said Taber.
Taber said that when DCP attorney Kelly Boden approached the microphone in an attempt to respond to one of the first speakers, the move was met with an unfavorable reaction from some in the audience, and Taber said he was pleased to see Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert instruct Boden to go to the end of the line and wait her turn.
Then Taber explained what he saw next — a second DCP attorney, James Kilbreth, approaching the table where Probert and Planning Board attorney Kristin Collins were seated and saying, "Better shut this down."
"I was grateful to see nothing more than this came of it," said Taber.
When asked about the incident Tuesday, June 19, DCP Midstream spokeswoman Roz Elliott said company counsel felt some who were expressing opposition to the proposal were treating the public comment period more as a public hearing. In a meeting setting, such as what was the case June 11, Elloitt explained, there is no procedure that allows an applicant to respond, point-by-point, to members of the public. And, Elliott added, the company objected to the nature of what was being said by some of the speakers, noting that they were "introducing testimony that was inaccurate and prejudicial" in a "highly inappropriate venue."
Taber asked the selectmen to support the Planning Board in its effort to allow for public input, as was evidenced by what took place at the June 11 meeting.
"It behooves the town to listen to its citizens," said Taber. "All of them."
Later in the meeting, Selectman Dick Desmarais did not comment specifically on what Taber said, but requested that the next meeting agenda include a general board discussion about the "open to the public" portions of municipal meetings.