Rudman Winchell Attorney Ed Bearor represents client in Searsport Propane Tank Dispute
Searsport Moving Forward on Building Large Propane Tank, Opposition Grows
by Christine Parrish
Searsport officials met with representatives of DCP Midstream on Monday night, June 4, to review the company’s application to build a 23-million-gallon propane storage facility at Mack Point.
DCP Midstream plans to finance the project itself at a cost of $40 million. When complete, it would be the largest propane tank in the country. The company hopes to start building later this year, with a targeted finish date 18 months after construction begins.
On Monday night, the goal of the planning board was to determine if the application submitted by DCP Midstream was complete, including permits from state and federal agencies.
It was not complete.
Critically, the application was missing a gas storage tank permit from the Maine Fuel Board. The permit hinges on a Fire Safety Analysis and a site inspection before and after construction to meet federal fire safety laws, according to Peter Holmes, a senior inspector at the Maine Fuel Board.
Typically, a developer hires an engineering firm to conduct the Fire Safety Analysis, which includes an analysis of existing and potential hazards in the development area and on nearby properties and an evaluation of the capabilities of local emergency response resources, according to Holmes. The analysis is not open-ended: it follows a set format.
The application was also missing some minor but important documentation, including the square footage of each individual building and structure proposed for the development and written documents to town officials and abutting property owners informing them of the development.
On several occasions Kristin Collins, the attorney hired by the town to advise the planning board, pointedly advised them to seek more information from the applicant. At more than one point, Collins urged them to make a motion to require more specific and easily accessible information in the application.
The discussion briefly turned to an impact review on Route 1. A DCP spokesman said he saw no need for further traffic studies since they anticipated no new information.
“There is a lot of concern about Route 1, but there are no municipal funds that go to Route 1,” said Searsport Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert, noting that a traffic study would cost $2,500 to $3,000 a week and the town does not have jurisdiction over Route 1.
The planning board briefly discussed hiring an outside consultant to review the application. At one point, Probert asked the representatives from DCP Midstream what they thought about the suitability of a particular consultant.
DCP Midstream has no say in who the town chooses as a consultant, but is responsible for paying for their services in conducting a peer review.
Collins interjected, saying the planning board could take up discussions about whether to hire an engineering consultant and who to hire at the next planning board meeting.
Probert said he expects the planning board to decide whether the application is complete or not at the next planning board meeting, which is scheduled for June 11. That meeting, which will include a public comment session, is expected to be heavily attended. It will not take the place of a public hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.
When the application is deemed complete, the planning board begins reviewing the contents of the application and must schedule a public hearing within 30 days. Probert said that town ordinances provide the opportunity to hire an outside consultant at any time during the review process, but Collins suggested that the decision on whether or not to hire an outside consultant be made explicit as soon as possible.
Ed Bearor, a Bangor attorney with Rudman Winchell who is representing Thanks, But No Tank, a citizen group that is seeking a comprehensive analysis of the impact of the development on the Penobscot Bay area, agreed that an outside consultant could be hired any time during the review process, but that it made more sense to do so now, since hiring a consultant later would be more expensive.
Either way, said Bearor, he thought it unlikely the planning board could call the permit application complete until they got the Maine Fuel Board permit, which will take a couple of months, at a minimum.
“And I expect the public process will go on for a long time,” said Bearor, noting that one case he represented in Southwest Harbor went on for three years.
Stephen Hinchman, a Bath attorney who specializes in environmental law and who also represents Thanks, But No Tank, said the Maine Superior Court appeal of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection permits for the DCP Midstream development were pending, with a decision likely within the next 30 to 90 days.
Hinchman said he thinks it’s likely the DEP permits will be found to have been fast-tracked and issued without the information required under federal law.
At the same time, Islesboro officials have spearheaded an effort to urge towns in Knox and Waldo counties to weigh in on the proposed development and pressure the town of Searsport to seek a comprehensive economic, environmental, and cultural review of the proposed project.
When asked if lawsuits against the town were pending, Bearor said, “Not yet.”
The next planning board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, June 11, in Searsport in Union Hall, above the town office. It will include a public comment period.