Strong opposition to Searsport LPG tank voiced during public hearingOpponents outnumber proponents during hearing
Searsport — Residents took DCP Midstream to task over their business practices and the potential impact to the community of a proposed 22.7-million-gallon liquid propane gas tank on Friday, Nov. 30, at the Searsport Planning Board's fifth day of public hearings.
The three-and-one-half hour public comment section marked the first time residents were able to speak about the project. Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert thanked attendees for their good behavior during the Thursday, Nov. 29, meeting and asked that all comments be kept to three to five minutes to accommodate as many speakers as possible.
“This is your night,” Probert told the crowd, which filled nearly every seat in the cafeteria.
Representatives from DCP Midstream were allowed 30 minutes to give a brief presentation about the tank and how it operates. The presentation focused mainly on the storage tank itself and how LPG is off-loaded from tankers and then loaded onto trucks and rail cars.
As long as there is power, any vapors that build up in the tank are routed to refrigeration units where they are compressed and routed back to the tank as a liquid. However, in the case of a prolonged power outage, those refrigeration units are not available and the vapors would instead be burned off using an emergency flare that stands 75-feet tall.
In addition, representatives said, a containment wall capable of holding the entire contents of the tank must be constructed to meet industry standards. Any fuel leaks would flow away from the tank, representatives said.
At the conclusion of the presentation, residents were invited to speak and many quickly jumped on the opportunity to challenge DCP’s track record.
'DCP’s track record says a lot'
Residents cast doubt on how good of a neighbor DCP Midstream will be by highlighting several incidents in recent years where the company was fined for air quality violations. Stockton Springs resident Tara Hollander compiled several reports regarding the violations that occurred. In 2008, DCP Midstream reached a $60.8 million settlement with the New Mexico Environmental Department for “numerous” violations at three separate natural gas plants in the state.
In addition, DCP Midstream was fined in July 2012 for 11 air quality violations by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. That fine amounted to $631,628 and represented more than 50 percent of the total fines assessed against 36 entities by the commission.
Searsport resident Don Garrold refuted claims the tank would pose a danger to the community based on his experience working for various chemical companies over the years. Garrold said companies take safety regulations very seriously and he did not feel DCP Midstream would endanger the community.
“We have never feared there might be an apocalyptic event,” Garrold said referring to concerns from some opponents the entire tank would explode.
The economic impact on Searsport if the tank application is approved is a divisive issue for some, as opponents say more jobs will be lost than gained and proponents see the project as a means to increase industry in the area.
One resident who lives close to the site of the proposed tank, noted Mack Point is zoned for industrial use. She also said tax values in town would be impacted more by the quality of the school system than the addition of an LPG tank. As a closing remark, she said the town voted to support the tank.
That statement quickly drew a chorus of no’s from the crowd until Probert called for order and asked attendees to respect each speaker even if they didn’t agree with the statements.
The only public vote directly related to the tank occurred after the opposition requested a six month moratorium be imposed on DCP Midstream’s application in order to give the group more time to learn about the project. That moratorium was soundly defeated by Searsport residents during their March town meeting.
Searsport resident Harlan McLaughlin questioned if the jobs created by the tank, which are estimated to be 10-12 full-time positions, is worth the jobs that would be lost if local businesses close.
“I think the saying goes, “forty to 50 jobs in the hand are worth 12 jobs in the bush,” McLaughlin said to laughter from the crowd.
Carrie Slocum of Belfast raised similar concerns saying the new jobs would be outnumbered by the potential loss of jobs at restaurants, such as Angler’s if the tank moves into town.
District 43 Rep. Erin Herbig attended Friday’s public hearing to encourage the Planning Board to weigh carefully any applications regarding potential economic development projects. Herbig, who acknowledged she does not support the tank, said pushing economic policy through too quickly can often backfire on municipalities.
“When looking at economic development, people know they won’t always get what they want,” Herbig said. She later added, “Community support is a huge part of economic development policy.”
Public hearings to continue
As the clock approached 9:30 p.m., Probert said the meeting would conclude, despite people still waiting in line to speak. One resident questioned why the hearing couldn’t be extended to accomodate a few more speakers. That prompted a vote by the board to extend the hearing until 10 p.m. to allow six more speakers.
After the last speaker, Probert said the public hearings will be recessed until January 16 when they resume for an additional three days.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.