Since December of 2010, proponents and opponents of the proposed 22.7 million gallon Liquefied Petroleum Gas storage facility at Mack Point have debated the merits and drawbacks of the project. And as time went on, the disagreement over whether the tank should or should not become a part of the existing industrial landscape in Searsport has grown from a local debate to one of regional concern and interest.

Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to grant a permit for the tank without holding a single public hearing. Now the decision of whether to allow DCP Midstream to move forward with their plans rests with the Town of Searsport, as the Planning Board must now begin the process of vetting the 700-plus-page application to determine its completion.

The next steps will include a local public hearing, during which town residents will have the chance to offer their thoughts and feelings about the project, one way or another, a step that will come well before the town planners make any final decisions.

In a Journal article that ran in the May 17 edition, DCP Midstream Spokeswoman Roz Elloitt said the company fully expects the planning board to take a fair amount of time considering the application to make sure the company has dotted its i’s and crossed its t’s.

We hope Elliott is correct and the Planning Board takes as much time as necessary to address the concerns with this project. There are serious questions that must be answered before it should be allowed to proceed.

Searsport is a beautiful community with important natural resources that could be harmed by an accident involving the tank. The proposed site is just a short distance from the ocean and the plan calls for wetlands to be filled in and pipes to be buried.

The board should look into whether filling in wetlands on the tank site could cause flooding in other areas. It should also make clear who is responsible for mitigating the flood damage if that occurs. Residents must also continue to ask questions about whether this action will impact local wildlife.

The town should also question whether the pipeline will be inspected regularly and who would do  that work. A process should be agreed on to how mitigation from a leak would be dealt with.

The increased traffic on the roads is another concern. Wear and tear on not only Searport’s roads, but on the surrounding communities that will see increase truck traffic must be addressed.

Safety is perhaps the biggest question and it has been something the community focused on from the beginning. While the tank itself is engineered to meet the strictest safety guidelines, what will the human component add to the equation?

A truly catastrophic accident seems almost impossible, but you only need to look at recent history to see that no safety system is above questioning.

Just two years ago the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded causing the largest accidental marine oil spill in American history. Last year in Japan, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant melted down resulting in the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Both were caused by incredibly unlikely sets of circumstances, but they happened.

The point isn’t that the potential disaster at the Searsport tank is on the scale of these two, but that the unlikely can happen. While the chance of a fire or a spill seems incredibly unlikely the town must take the time necessary to review this proposal in as much detail as possible.