Tank issue prompts call for town officials to assert authority

Project opponents seek cooperation for Good Harbor study
By Tanya Mitchell | Aug 26, 2012
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell Don Garrold addresses the Searsport Board of Selectmen Tuesday night, Aug. 21.

Searsport — The regular session of the selectmen's meeting Tuesday night, Aug. 21, lasted less than 20 minutes, but that was long enough for residents on both sides of the ongoing tank debate to offer two very different sets of comments on the issue.

Searsport resident Don Garrold urged selectmen, members of the Planning Board and Town Manager James Gillway to recognize what he described as the abuse of public comment sessions at municipal meetings by "special interest groups" and their "hired professionals." Garrold delivered his comments in the form of a letter he read to the board during the public comment portion of Tuesday night's meeting.

"I believe your authority is being overwhelmed," said Garrold, who was visibly displeased with other residents in attendance who have publicly stated their opposition to a proposed 22.7-million-gallon liquefied petroleum gas storage tank at Mack Point.

The project proposal has been a point of contention around the region since the would-be developer, DCP Midstream of Denver, Colo., announced its intentions to construct such a facility in late 2010. The project is now working its way through the review process with the town Planning Board.

Garrold stated that while he understands the importance of giving the public a say in matters relating to the town, that openness has given those opposed to the project an additional avenue to "push out industrial development in our area."

Proposals or issues that come before town boards, said Garrold, are meant to be judged through the framework of municipal ordinances, all of which have been enacted via voter approval.

Garrold said there's plenty of room in town for additional industrial developments, as well as those who wish to operate tourism or recreation-based businesses, but he cautioned that relying on recreation alone to support the local economy is "a fantasy that is dreamed of by only a few."

Garrold's comments were prefaced by an audible sigh and what appeared to be a shake of his head in disagreement with comments that came from another Searsport resident, Peter Taber.

Taber, who addressed selectmen prior to Garrold, asked the board to seek the cooperation of town employees for an independent all hazards risk assessment that Good Harbor Techmark is expected to perform in the coming months. As part of the study, which was commissioned through Islesboro Island Trust, Good Harbor would identify potential intentional, natural and accidental threats to a fuel storage facility of the proposed scale and vulnerabilities associated with the project site.

The Good Harbor study was initially announced at the Monday, Aug. 13, Planning Board meeting. At that time IIT and TBNT attorney Steve Hinchman asked Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert if he would help facilitate the cooperation of town employees during the data-gathering process of the study.

"[Probert] essentially threw it back upon you gentlemen," said Taber to selectmen. Taber recalled that Probert and other Planning Board members expressed doubt that they had the authority to make that request of town employees, and suggested selectmen might be the appropriate body to do so.

And, Taber said, because of the "hostile behavior" on the parts of some in the emergency management and fire departments, he felt that making that formal request was warranted.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Aaron Fethke said he thought town employees would be cooperative, and Gillway agreed, though he did ask Taber if Hinchman would put that request in writing.

Taber agreed to deliver that message to Hinchman, and Gillway said the town would issue a response so that all of the written correspondence on the matter would be included in the formal record.

Comments (7)
Posted by: wellington dunbar | Aug 30, 2012 19:40

Searsport gets stuck with a real doozie of a plan and Belfast gets the shipyard. How many "jobs" were created in Belfast and how many with the 'Big Tank?" How much Planning Board experience does the Searsport Planning Board have? Who among them is willing to ask the really tough questions without fear of retribution?

Posted by: wellington dunbar | Aug 29, 2012 21:36

This form of media sucks. No continuity for continued discussion. It appears as a newsworthy item and them descends downward to a nothing page where it is no longer explored for relevant discussion. What stands for opposition anymore? Hello midcoast...your belly full tonight..? gas in your car so everything is alright...what else are you willing to swallow...? how about a commercial from BP telling you everything is alright in the Gulf of Mexico and you should come on down and enjoy the hospitality...

Posted by: wellington dunbar | Aug 28, 2012 21:51

I encourage readers to comment and to stay focused on this issue. Counting jobs is not the focus. It does not matter if this project creates a hundred jobs. The scope and magnitude of this project far outweights any benefit to the overall well being of the bay and as life as we know it in this region.

Posted by: MARY JEAN CROWE | Aug 28, 2012 10:22

People near and far oppose the tank, and for all the reasons described here.  Searsport deserves a good future with quality job opportunities for its citizens, who are good people.  But the tank is not the way to create those jobs - there are too many issues that jeopardize the community, the bay and Searsport's neighbors.  The tank is too big and unneeded.  I urge people to come forward and offer alternatives to this monstrosity. Searsport Planning Board members, please consider all of us.  Today tank proponents argue with tank opponents.  If  this tank is constructed, w/ the few jobs it will provide, it will then be proponent against proponent and there will be further division in the community.  There are other ways to create opportunity.  Who will come forward and lead, now?

Posted by: David N. Berg | Aug 28, 2012 10:08

I think, too, that we are ignoring many issues that are critical.  DCP Midstream has a backup power supply for a few hours that are only for its gauges and administrative functions.  There is absolutely no backup power for the cooling system itself in its proposal for a permit and relies upon the dirt embankment around the tank and the venting stacks if there is a power outage.  Yet how quickly the Searsport Planning Board forgets the many days without power during the ice storm.  It happened once and can happen again.  Do they have gas masks for the entire town?  I sure hope they prohibit smoking even in people's homes.

We have seen in this past year unprovoked and senseless acts of aggression by disgruntled or insane people who have opened fire on crowds of people.  What better target than this tank that would kill thousands with one good shot?  We also know that there are terrorists in this country who have gone unnoticed, even in Army Training facilities.  How east it would be for an American Al-Qaeda sympathizer to rent a plan at the Belfast Airport and follow the beacon of light sent out by the burn off chimneys of this tank and crash it into the tank.

Nobody can ensure that these things would not happen since nobody could predict the ice storm, the Aurora, Colorado massacre, the Fort Hood shootings by a base psychiatrist, the conversion of the shoe bomber to Al-Quaeda, and the increase in violence on a mass scale that has occurred. These things all seemed unthinkable, yet they occurred and could occur again.

Do we really want a time bomb ticking away in Searsport?  I don't want to bet my life on a disaster not occurring.  The dangers are too great and the benefits too few to warrant the permitting of this tank.

Eonomically we see that there are conferences around the State concerning the fishing industry and its problems.  This tank would bring in more tankers thereby at best shutting down Penobscot Bay for periods of time and at worst, polluting the waters and having a negative impact upon our fishermen, both commercial and recreational, and our lobstermen.

It just doesn't make sense to me.

Posted by: Andrea Danforth | Aug 27, 2012 06:26

Take a look at the accident in Venezuela. Is it worth the paltry number of long term jobs? There are many other types of industry we could encourage here in mid coast Maine without jeopardizing lives and the environment. We need to proactively focus on other options and not wait to see what happens to come our way.

Posted by: wellington dunbar | Aug 26, 2012 17:16

This proposed project will make the mid coast region of Maine extremely vulnerable. The potential exsplosivity of the proposed tank and its contents is enormous. I fail to see how any municipal entity could cope with the enormity of an accident should it occur. The proposal is grandiose and irresponsible.

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