A Colorado-based company that hopes to construct and operate a propane terminal at Mack Point made its first pitch to the public Tuesday, Dec. 14.

DCP Midstream, headquartered in Denver, wants to construct and operate a “marine-supplied truck/rail loading propane terminal” at Mack Point, according to a press release from the town. The press release states the project “will include a single steel tank, loading pumps for truck or rail, and an office building.”

DCP Midstream does not yet have an application before the town’s planning board, but Town Manager James Gillway said when the company first met with town officials, he encouraged the company to engage in open and honest communication about their plans.

“When we first met with the folks at DCP Midstream, I told them that we don’t like secrets in Searsport,” he said. “I told them to be open, and to talk to as many people as they can, and that’s what really sparked this meeting.”

Although billed in advance as a “public information meeting,” one attendee said the Dec. 14 gathering in Union Hall felt more like a trade show presentation. The rows of wooden chairs that usually fill the room for public meetings had been put away, and instead of one or more presenters speaking to the entire audience, people milled around from one display table to the next to pick up handouts and speak with various company representatives individually.

In addition to information about the project, various items with DCP Midstream’s logo on them were offered for free to attendees — pencils, key chains and small first aid kits — as were cookies and coffee.

Rick Paul, a business developer with DCP Midstream, said the planned terminal in Searsport would involve tankers bringing in liquefied propane and offloading it at Mack Point. The propane would be offloaded at the existing dry cargo pier and piped to a large storage tank nearby. Paul said no upgrades or modifications would be required to the dock at Mack Point in order for DCP Midstream to do business in Searsport.

Exactly how many ships would be arriving in Searsport each year to offload propane was not clear Tuesday night. Although the estimate was four to seven ships a year, according to both Paul and one of the handouts available at the presentation, another company official — Asset Director Jeffrey Hurteau — put the number at three to four ships. Another handout pegged the number at five to six propane ships each year.

Regardless of how many ships annually come to Searsport, they will range in size from 578 feet to 760 feet, with a draft of between 32 feet and 38 feet, according to a fact sheet from the company. Paul said the time from when each ship hooks up at the dock until the time it leaves port should be about 36 hours.

However many ships arrive, Hurteau said November through April would be the busiest season, as that is when there is the greatest demand for propane. April to November, he said, is regarded as the quieter, summer season, and there is a “significant reduction in business” during those months.

“You may see one ship offload in the late spring, and that may last us for the entire summer season,” he said. “We may not need any more until early fall.”

Hurteau said that because of the nature of the cargo, the ships carrying liquefied propane would be under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard “from when they enter the region until when they leave.”

Once offloaded from the ship, the liquefied propane would be pumped into a large storage tank that would be constructed for this project. That tank, according to project manager David Graham, would be 137 feet high and would measure 202 feet in diameter.

[Editor’s note: This version of the story corrects the height of the storage tank.]

The propane would be distributed from the tank to either railroad tank cars or delivery trucks, according to demand, and taken either to land-based propane terminal facilities (there are currently such terminals in Bangor and Auburn, for example) or to propane dealers.

Much as with the ship traffic, truck traffic in and out of the facility would fluctuate depending on the season. According to Hurteau, the facility would likely handle 40 to 50 truckloads per day in the busy season, and perhaps 10 to 15 truckloads per day in the off season. He said many of the trucks involved would be making multiple trips, and that the trips would take place around the clock.

“They would not be all piled up at once,” he said.

Truck drivers accessing DCP Midstream’s proposed facility would have to be cleared by the Coast Guard, Hurteau said. That agency issues drivers an official identification card once they have passed the necessary requirements. Hurteau said DCP Midstream considers entry into any of its facilities “a privilege, not a right,” and that any driver who violated any of the requirements would not be allowed entry to the facility.

Paul, the business developer, said DCP Midstream is seeking to purchase just under 40 acres at Mack Point for this project. Neither he nor Graham had an estimate of what the facility’s footprint would look like on those 40 acres. Paul did say, though, that trees would be left around the large storage tank, in order to screen the tank at least somewhat.

DCP Midstream already operates two other marine-supplied propane terminals, one in Providence, R.I., and the other in Chesapeake, Va. Gillway said the arrangement in Providence had not been cost-effective for DCP Midstream because of capacity problems there. Presently, Gillway said, the company sends short-loaded ships to the Providence dock because the holding tank there cannot hold a full shipload of liquefied propane.

“Every time you send a short-loaded ship out, you’re losing money,” said Gillway.

Gillway said in his conversations with the company, he had learned that current language in the town’s Land Use Ordinance would not allow for the development the company is seeking. He said DCP Midstream had identified issues with the town’s current height restrictions in the ordinance, specifically those that affect the industrial district, as the current ordinance language keeps primary structures at or below 60 feet. Accessory structures, such as cranes, silos and towers, are to measure no higher than 125 feet.

With DCP Midstream proposing to build a 137-foot-tall tank, “this project doesn’t fit [under current regulations],” said Gillway. He noted that the annual review of the land use ordinance is under way, though, and that this proposal — as well as the previously announced plan to bring a large harbor crane to the Mack Point facility — offers a good opportunity to examine the existing requirements. The town has also been seeking input from GAC Chemical Corporation, on Kidder Point, Gillway said, about how the town’s zoning requirements impact it.

Gillway said any changes to the land use ordinance — which would have to be approved by voters at a town meeting — would apply to the entire industrial zone, and not just the proposed DCP Midstream development.

“If the ordinance needs a change, we can make a change,” said Gillway. “It’s a living document.”

Regarding safety issues at the proposed propane facility, Gillway said the town’s emergency services officials held an informal meeting — without DCP Midstream present — to talk about potential issues. Gillway said that discussion was very preliminary, and that as more information becomes available, the town will be better able to address any of those potential issues.

Paul acknowledged one potential safety concern, regarding how liquefied propane gas differs from liquefied natural gas.

“There’s a lot of difference,” he said. LNG is much more volatile, he said, and the ships used to transport propane are “much smaller” than those used to transport LNG. Paul also said that if DCP constructed a facility in Searsport, it would only be used for propane.

“It will never be able to be an LNG tank,” he said.

Another question addressed was the smell that might be associated with a propane facility. Propane is injected with an odorant before it can be used by consumers, and that odorant would be added in Searsport, as shown on one diagram at Tuesday’s presentation. According to another press release from DCP Midstream, though, “The system is by design a closed system, and with normal operating conditions there will be no odor emitted from the facility.”

Regarding the potential timeline for when this facility might be operational, Paul said it would likely be in 2013. That would allow for a year to get all the necessary permits and other approvals, and then a year to 18 months for construction.