In recent months, Searsport selectmen have regularly heard from residents who are either concerned about or outright opposed to a proposal that would site a liquefied petroleum gas terminal at Mack Point.

Those who addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting Tuesday night, Feb. 21, however, expressed support for the project being proposed by Colorado-based DCP Midstream.

One of those residents was Pete Sarnacki, who recently penned a guest column about the project titled “Balancing risk to benefit for Searsport’s future” that appeared on the VillageSoup website and in the Feb. 9 edition of the VillageSoup Journal.

Tuesday, Sarnacki expounded on the points he offered in his editorial piece and handed out copies of the column to selectmen before telling the board he is “very concerned about the direction this town is headed in.”

Sarnacki said he recently took a ride through town to get a better sense of the economic condition of the town, and what he saw left him concerned about the future of the town.

“Look at the amount of houses that are actually vacant,” he said.

Aside from the grocery store, the local gas stations, Hamilton Marine and the ongoing port operations at Mack Point, Sarnacki said businesses in town appear to be hurting.

Sarnacki, who served as chairman of the Board of Selectmen for three years, said when he ran for office he made a commitment to make decisions based on what was best for the majority of the community.

He said he “fully supports” the businesses in town that depend on tourism, but said he’s seen examples of how heavy industry and tourism can exist not only exist in the same community, but thrive.

That’s happening in Valdez, Alaska, Sarnacki said, a town that has its share of industrial operations and has also weathered the storm that followed the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which dumped of 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.

Despite the industrial nature and history of the area, Sarnacki said the tourism industry there is doing just fine — he said the region recently saw cruise ship traffic jump from 24 vessels a year to 92 in four years’ time.

“[The presence of industrial operations has] actually had no negative effect on the tourist industry,” he said.

Because of the high emotions associated with the issue, Sarnacki said it can be difficult for those who support the proposed LPG project to express their feelings publicly when in the company of many who oppose it. When residents were concerned about the possibility of a liquefied natural gas terminal on Sears Island a few years ago, Sarnacki said he attempted to share some information about the benefits of such an industry but was unable to finish his comments.

“I was basically booed out of a town meeting,” he said.

Sarnacki concluded by telling selectmen he intends to vote against the moratorium and held up a lawn sign that read “Vote No.” He said he and several of his friends and neighbors would be displaying the signs in their yards in the days leading up to the annual town meeting, when residents will decide whether to enact a moratorium on all LPG-related projects.

Another resident who spoke in favor of the tank proposal was Herb Kronholm.

Kronholm, longtime head of the town’s water district and recently retired assistant fire chief, said while the water district and other town entities are taking a neutral stand on the issue, he personally believes the project would bring some “great benefits” to Searsport.

Kronholm said DCP Midstream officials approached the water district to see what was available for fire protection, and in the process, the company committed to upgrading aging water mains on Route 1 as a way to get more water to a potential fire scene faster than what is possible now.

“They’ve agreed to invest in our infrastructure,” said Kronholm. “That’s about a $1 million project.”

Water mains that lead down to Mack Point, said Kronholm, are smaller in diameter than some of the more modern ones, and the infrastructure upgrade would also mean firefighters would be able to put 2,400 gallons of water per minute to a fire at the site. Currently, the existing system can provide 1,000 gallons of water per minute.

THe LPG facility itself, Kronholm added, would also be equipped with fire pumps and sprinkler systems that would activate in the event of a fire at the site.

One of Kronholm’s sons now serves as a Searsport firefighter, and he is one of those who would be asked to respond should an emergency arise at the facility. Having gone over the company’s plans thoroughly, Kronholm said he is confident that the project would not greatly increase the likelihood of an emergency at Mack Point and that he is comfortable with having DCP Midstream come to town.

“I wouldn’t put any of my kids in harm’s way,” Kronholm said.

Regarding the tourism-related businesses in town, Kronholm said those, too, are a necessary part of the town’s economy.

“Those are key to the town,” he said. “I don’t like to see any jobs or businesses move out because of something new moving in.”

But like Sarnacki, Kronholm said tourism and industry can exist together — he saw it in his hometown of Millinocket, where his father retired from working at a paper mill and his mother ran a restaurant. Despite the existence of the mills, Kronholm said summertime always brought plenty of visitors to the region.

“I really don’t think [tourism] is going to see an impact; that’s my personal opinion,” he said.

Another benefit the project could bring is tax money, which he said might ease the burden of taxpayers in town who are struggling financially.

When the town voted to allow for the height increase on certain structures in the industrial zone at last year’s annual town meeting, Kronholm said that move “sent a welcome sign to companies like DCP.”

By throwing a moratorium into the process, Kronholm said the town will send a negative message to any other company or business that might have otherwise considered a move to Searsport.

Resident Toni Rowe also addressed selectmen.

Rowe, who said she has been a real estate broker in the region for nearly 30 years,  said she didn’t see how adding an LPG terminal to the existing industrial operations at Mack Point would negatively impact property values.

She said in the past she has had potential buyers turn away from Searsport because they “wanted to see sailboats” and not tanker traffic, but that has been occurring for as long as the town has had an industrial port.

“They didn’t match Searsport,” said Rowe, referring to the buyers who didn’t wish to move there.

Rowe also expressed concern that the annual town meeting might include input or action from people who are not residents of the town.

“This is a decision that should be made by town people, not by people coming in from other places,” she said. “Town meeting is really our town meeting.”

“How would you feel about DCP being there?” asked Selectman Roland LaReau.

“I’m not sure they should be there, as other communities shouldn’t be there,” said Rowe.

Rowe said people used to move to Searsport because the taxes were lower than what they were in the places they were moving from. Now, Rowe said families have opted not to move to town because the taxes in Searsport are higher than what they’re used to seeing.

“We need tax dollars,” she said. “We need fresh, new input in our community.”

Town Manager James Gillway said town staff will be changing the voting process this year to reduce the likelihood of non-residents voting, or residents voting more than once.

Gillway said the ballots that will be used for voting on issues that are expected to be carried out by way of secret ballot will be color-coded, and will be will likely be stapled to the cards residents use to vote from the floor.

Due to the large crowd expected at town meeting, Gillway said the school gymnasium will not host tables for organizations like the fire and ambulance services because the room will be used solely for conducting business. Food sales that typically take place in the hallway outside the gym will be moved to the cafeteria, and folks in there will be able to follow the meeting from a large screen television that will be set up in that space.

And to cut down on distractions, Gillway said no political or issue-related signs or props will be allowed on the premises.

Regarding non-residents, Gillway reminded the public that if they are to speak at town meeting, residents must approve that request by a two-thirds majority vote.

“We’ve got a lot of business to do, and we want to keep things to the business at hand,” he said.