A thoughtful op-ed from September 9, 2012 Bangor Daily News
By David N. Berg, Special to the BDN
Personally speaking as a Searsport resident, I think some here still think the earth is flat and ends at the Searsport town line. In their myopic view, it is better to encourage industrial development than to protect their neighbors’ safety or the existing tourism, fishing and real estate industries on which our economy depends.
Before 1492 sailors “knew” the earth was flat. So, too, does Searsport Planning Board in deciding DCP Midstream’s application for the largest liquid propane storage tank on the Eastern seaboard, one ignores that the proposed development will affect every community in and around Penobscot Bay.
DCP Midstream’s application shows no power backup for the cooling system. The only “backup” is to release the propane gas, hoping that no spark or smoker is in the area. Did they forget the 1998 ice storm that left Searsport without power for days? The awful terrorist events of 9/11 seemed unthinkable, but they occurred. It seems unthinkable that Americans could sympathize with al-Qaida, or vengeful people could cause a catastrophe, but public attacks have occurred in Aurora, Colo., Oklahoma City and elsewhere.
A lunatic flying a plane from Belfast Airport or a driver tossing a Molotov cocktail would have an easy target with the continually illuminated stacks as guides and a mile-long, above-ground pipeline of LPG to target. In fact all that is needed is to disable the power to the facility for a disaster to occur, because of DCP’s failure to provide backup power to the tank.
At an SPB meeting it was announced that Good Harbor, an independent security consulting firm headed up by Richard Clarke, would evaluate critical safety questions in an unbiased manner. A planning board member was recorded saying he already had all the information he needed and did not see the need for a briefing on what Good Harbor concludes. In fact, the planning board has said no safety review is required as part of their review of DCP’s application — despite clear requirements in Searsport’s ordinances that the planning board determine the health and safety effects of any proposed development.
A geologist from the University of Maine informed the planning board that no information about the extent of the fault at Sears Island (that prevented CMP from putting a nuclear power plant there in the 1970s), nor of other faults under Mack Point has been studied. The planning board has taken no action to determine whether faults exist under the proposed tank site.
The planning board was informed by Dr. David Goldschmitt, a Searsport homeowner, former director of emergency operations at Ground Zero and nationally certified Homeland Security expert, that he believed there was sufficient potential danger from this project to make it unsafe.
Dr. Goldschmitt determined if one of the storage tanks already at Mack Point caught on fire, a chain of events would ensue resulting in an explosion.
Unthinkable? No. Such a fire occurred at Mack Point on June 7, 2011, in an empty storage tank, requiring five hours for 70 firefighters from seven towns to extinguish it.
Even our Searsport Fire Chief said that all we could do was to let it burn itself out if the propane from the proposed tank caught on fire. But what about the explosions in adjacent tanks that would result? Just such a disaster occurred this month in Venezuela where a propane leak caused 3 adjacent fuel tanks to ignite, killing dozens, injuring hundreds and destroying thousands of nearby homes and businesses.
Is it time to return to 1491 and pretend the world stops at the Searsport town line — ignoring the effects of the proposed DCP tank on this region and ignoring the unthinkable we have witnessed over the past 11 years, or to dismiss information that could save your fellow citizens’ lives, all for twelve specialized jobs or to face reality? Is it appropriate only to consider statements from DCP Midstream with its vested interests? They, at least, will be in their comfy homes in Oklahoma or Colorado while you and I are incinerated.
Maybe the unlikely will not occur, but I sure won’t bet my neighbor’s life on it.
David Berg is a former New York City elementary school principal, past president of the New York State Reading Association, former assistant director of the New York City Board of Education Office of Student Health and Screening Services who to Searsport after spending summers in Maine since the age of seven.