Whether you favor allowing a liquified petroleum gas terminal at Mack Point or not, the public should ask questions about how such a development might change the region before a final decision is made.

That was the message from Astrig Tanguay, co-owner of Searsport Shores Campground and member of a local coalition of residents and businesspeople known as “Thanks but no Tank.”

Tanguay led a slideshow presentation that was followed by an hour of collecting questions from the public about the proposal from the Denver-based DCP Midstream to construct a 22.7-million-gallon LPG storage tank at Mack Point.

About 100 people attended the first of two tank forums, which was held at Union Hall in Searsport Wednesday night, Nov. 2.

While we weren’t looking

Tanguay said she and other area business owners first heard about the DCP proposal during the initial informational meetings the company hosted in Searsport late last year. While many people attended those forums and expected some progress with the potential project, the development moved ahead much faster than she anticipated.

Taguay credited local people like Buddy Hall of Anglers Restaurant and Tom Gocze, both of whom neighbor the potential development site, for keeping abreast of the progress of the proposal since DCP first approached the town. The information Hall and Gocze had been gathering since then has proven valuable these days, Tanguay said, because the process of staying informed intermingled with a busy summer season.

By the time the season ended, Tanguay said, the project had been granted approval from the state Department of Transportation and had gained cursory approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

“We did not realize what was happening when this first started happening,” said Tanguay. “… Suddenly the summer visitors were gone and then we realized this project has moved forward while we weren’t looking.”

The estimated $40 million proposal, said Tanguay, would bring in a 137-foot-tall fuel storage tank — the average building in Searsport, she added, is about 34 feet high.

Increased truck traffic is a concern for Route 1, said Tanguay, as is size of the tanker trucks and the nature of the cargo that the vehicles would be carrying. According to statistics Tanguay offered from the Federal Highway Administration, 98 percent of people who die in accidents involving tractor trailers are those who are riding in passenger vehicles.

“How long before somebody you love is going to slide into [a fuel truck]?” she said.

DCP Midstream representatives have also indicated in their preliminary applications that much of the truck transportation would occur during the winter, when Tanguay noted road conditions in the Midcoast can be especially unfavorable.

Tanguay also posed questions about what might happen if a 22.7-million-gallon fuel tank were to explode, either due to a terrorist attack or accident, and what the implications of placing this kind of fuel next door to GAC Chemical might be.

Tanguay showed some media accounts of propane-related accidents, including one that was documented in Massachusetts in the fall of 2010.

“People died because they couldn’t smell the chemical,” said Tanguay, referring to the additive that gas companies use to give propane a detectable odor. Tanguay said she learned in her research that including the additive is the final step in the fuel transportation process, meaning that there would be propane stored at the proposed site that would not carry the smell.

“If something happens, we won’t be able to smell it,” she said.

Tanguay also noted that the noise echoing across the bay from operations at Mack Point have already resulted in a loss of families who had traditionally stayed at the campground each year. The proposed DCP Midstream development, she said, would only add to the existing noise of beeping trucks and clanking metal.

Tanguay questioned what the region would get in return for allowing the LPG operation to come into town, noting that Anglers Restaurant, for example, employs 75 people annually. And that’s in addition to the workers that are hired at other local restaurants, inns and campgrounds. Those jobs would all be jeopardized, said Tanguay, in exchange for “eight to 12 gas station jobs.”

“This is not compatible with tourism,” said Tanguay. “We are going to lose.”

Defining prosperity

Along with reminding the public about findings in the 2006 Maine State Planning Office-commissioned Brookings Institute report, which among other things called for the state to preserve its natural places and continue fostering the state’s $15 billion tourism industry, Tanguay urged those in attendance to look at the implications of the potential development from a broader perspective.

“I keep hearing this is a Searsport issue,” Tanguay told the crowd. “… This is a regional issue because we’re all connected by this ribbon that is our Main Street, that is Route 1.”

To that end, Tanguay asked the audience to consider their own definitions of prosperity. Some people believe prosperity will come to the area if more industry is brought into the community, but Tanguay said that is an old way of thinking that could damage the existing local tourism industry.

The Brookings report, noted Tanguay, showed Maine jumped from 46th to 26th place in the country in terms of population growth since 2000. The report also stated that the people who are coming to the Pine Tree State have higher-than-average incomes, and are also attracting more young people to Maine. That trend, Tanguay said, might change if DCP Midstream is allowed to move forward with its plans.

And Tanguay said unlike the DCP Midstream proposal, the businesses that have been coming to the area in recent years — athenahealth, Front Street Shipyard and the incoming Coastal Farms Food Processing Center in Belfast, as examples — are in line with the types of industries that were highlighted in the report as a way to keep Maine prosperous into the future.

Tanguay also recalled the vote to change the height restrictions in the town’s land use ordinance that was taken at the annual town meeting in March, and reminded the audience that the question of altering the restrictions was first raised concerning cranes at Sprague Energy, not the LPG proposal.

Because there was federal stimulus money available for Sprague to apply toward the cost of larger, more efficient cranes, Tanguay said, the question of raising the height restrictions in the industrial zone was included on the town meeting warrant. She also recalled that there was a relatively low turnout for the town meeting, and that the question passed by 13 votes.

“We voted to change the height of the cranes, though it wasn’t worded that way,” she said.

Seeking answers, and a way to slow down

During the second phase of the forum, residents added their own questions about the project to a compilation of inquiries that the “Thanks but no Tank” group will try to get answers for from town and state officials.

Many people said they wanted to see DCP Midstream pay for an economic impact study of the project to be completed by an independent agency, a document that would include everything from impacts on businesses and property values to impacts on town services and tax revenues.

Others, like Grasshopper Shop proprietor Rick Schweikert, wanted to know if it is possible to retract the vote that was taken at the annual town meeting which paved the way for the development in the first place.

“The vote in March, it seemed like it was a quick vote,” he said. “I think 126 people voted and it only passed by 13 votes. What recourse do we have to kind of put the brakes on this?”

Another man suggested the town consider enacting a moratorium on the development of LPG operations “to at least slow this thing down.”

But before residents had even asked the first question of the evening, Searsport Emergency Management Director Almon Rivers encouraged residents to bring any safety questions and concerns to him.

“If we have a hazard, and you’re wondering how the town can protect us, I’m the guy who’s responsible each year for updating our emergency management plan,” he said.

When residents pressed him for more details about what extent the town can go to make sure its residents are safe, Rivers said “I could come up with any kind of solution, where we spend an extraordinary amount of money on protecting ourselves and drive all the industry out of town.”

“It’s finding a balance between being able to live and being able to live safely. That’s what I do for the town,” he said.

Several of those in attendance asked how DCP Midstream, as well as the town, state and federal agencies, plan to deal with the LPG terminal being a potential terrorist target, while others questioned how the storage tank will be decommissioned at the end of its estimated 30-year life span.

One woman, who stated she suffers from a respiratory condition known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, wanted to know more about how the project might impact air quality.

Resident Peter Taber asked if Searsport was chosen because fewer people would be impacted in the event of an accident.

“Are we being treated as second-class citizens because we are a low-density population?” he asked.

Tanguay said it is important for everyone to ask questions about the proposal, whether they favor the potential development or not.

“Some people may think this is a brilliant plan for Searsport,” she said. “… We just think they should be asking the same questions we are.”