Selectmen wrestled with the question of how and when it may be appropriate for the board to get involved in the proposed development of a liquefied petroleum gas terminal at Mack Point.

Residents filled the meeting room at Union Hall to capacity for the Tuesday night, Nov. 15 regular meeting of the selectmen. Many in attendance expressed a desire for town officials to press the would-be developers of a proposed 137-foot-tall tank, Colorado-based DCP Midstream, to conduct an economic impact study as part of the application process.

The company has yet to file a formal application with the Searsport Planning Board, but the project has received approval from the state Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection.

Searsport resident Anne Crimaudo started off discussions during the portion of the meeting dedicated to public questions and comments. Crimaudo told selectmen that two recent informational forums held in Searsport and Belfast earlier this month — both of which were hosted by a local coalition known as “Thanks but no Tank” — produced a list of 63 questions from the public about the proposed project.

“We gave these to [Planning Board Chairman] Bruce Probert at the planning board meeting Monday night,” Crimaudo said. “We also want to present them to the selectmen.”

Crimaudo said some questions may be easily answered, while others may require some research, particularly ones that call for specifics regarding the possible economic impact study.

Crimaudo then asked selectmen to offer their individual opinions about whether such a study is warranted. All five selectmen agreed that it is a reasonable request to bring to the company.

“I think it’s warranted,” said Board Chairman Aaron Fethke.

Selectman Roland LaReau agreed, noting that he is particularly interested in seeing if Searsport would win or lose financially if DCP Midstream were allowed to move forward with the proposal.

“I’d really like to see if somebody can work out whether this becomes a net negative or a net positive for the town,” he said.

LaReau said the study should be extensive enough to show everything from how the project would impact property values and tax revenue to the possible gain or loss of state subsidy.

“It needs to be a very extensive study,” LaReau said. “This is going to affect property owners throughout the entire town and it affects our budget in the long run.”

LaReau added that the study should be conducted by an independent company, and that DCP Midstream “certainly has a judiciary interest to pay for this.”

Selectman Dick Desmarais said he agreed with “most of” what LaReau said, and talked about a recent change in Maine transportation law that will allow trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to travel on the interstate. Desmarais said he learned of the change in the law at a recent meeting in Bangor, and there he also learned that the last time the state temporarily allowed trucks of that size onto the state’s major highway it “took 100 trucks a day off the corridor here.”

The latest law change, Desmarais said, is expected to remain in effect for 20 years and is set to take effect “by or before Thanksgiving.”

Desmarais said about two weeks ago he watched Route 1 traffic and observed 43 18-wheelers passing by in the span of about an hour and that one was a propane truck. The pending change in state law could reduce that overall amount, said Desmarais.

There’s been “a lot of confusion” concerning the number of trucks that a DCP Midstream development might add to the existing truck traffic, Desmarais said, noting that public speculation has swung from as few as 100 trucks per day to up to 5,000 per day. Desmarais said he recently learned of another DCP Midstream facility of a similar size as the one proposed for Mack Point that increased truck traffic by 48 trucks per day in the winter and seven per day in the summer months.

That being said, Desmarais said he is in favor of asking the company to do an economic impact study.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to walk away from this,” said Desmarais. “I know you folks aren’t, and I know DCP isn’t.”

Selectman Joe Perry offered a more direct response to Crimaudo’s question.

“The project should not go through without one, plain and simple,” Perry said.

Selectman Doug Norman said after attending the “Thanks but no Tank” informational forums, it became clear to him that some of what the public is asking for is beyond the scope and power of the planning board.

“There are questions that it’s obvious to me the planning board probably can’t answer because they don’t deal with economics,” he said. “I agree, we should send them a letter… We should not approve this without getting answers to all the questions and we certainly are not going to pay for it.”

LaReau said the study should be completed as soon as possible, and suggested the board write a letter to the company asking them to finance the study.

Fethke said it is appropriate to express that interest to the company, given all of the public comment that the board he received on the issue, and agreed that timing is an issue. He also stated the discussions on the topic would and should remain limited because it was not listed as an agenda item, and because of that no action would be taken on the matter Tuesday night.

“No formal, substantive decisions will be made on an issue without prior notice,” he said.

Fethke said he “fully suspect this will end up in some sort of litigation” and that it may be premature for the board to send such a letter before DCP Midstream has a formal application before the town.

“It’s putting together a proper record,” said Fethke, noting that if votes are taken and letters are written before the company actively engages the town it could bring up issues for the town down the road.

“I disagree,” said LaReau.

Fethke said after the company brings its application to the planning board, he would be happy to draft a letter and have the board review it. Fethke added that the matter would be added to the agenda so that “people will see it and everyone knows it’s coming.”

And, Fethke said, if two or more selectmen disagree with him, he would put the topic on the next meeting agenda.

Some locals, like Guy Chocensky, said because the matter is being discussed at planning board meetings it is a good time for the town to assert itself.

“If it’s already part of planning board discussions, it’s already Searsport’s business,” he said.

Another resident said selectmen are responsible for the health and safety of the town, and this issue stands to affect those aspects of life in Searsport.

“DCP is certainly getting their ducks in a row, why shouldn’t we be getting our ducks in a row?” she asked.

Although some residents are asking selectmen to require DCP to conduct an economic impact study, Fethke expressed doubt that it is within the board’s power to do so.

Resident Peter Taber said the town’s Site Plan Ordinance gives the planning board the option of requiring an applicant to pay for consultants, to which Fethke replied, “If it is, it’s a planning board decision.”