by Christine Parrish Feature Writer
The Searsport Planning Board voted unanimously on Monday night to start public hearings on the proposed 22.7-million-gallon propane storage facility on Monday, November 26, hold them on four consecutive nights, then reconvene the public hearing when the all-hazards risk assessment, which was commissioned by a citizen opposition group, is delivered at the end of the year.
That decision underscores the growing uncertainty in the community about the company that is proposing the development: DCP Midstream, LLC.
Last spring DCP appeared to have strong local support. They were effectively managing local opposition to the propane storage facility at Mack Point and launched a successful campaign against a citizen moratorium that would have halted development for several months to review town ordinances with safety in mind. The moratorium failed by popular vote and it appeared that DCP was on a smooth track to site-plan approval from the Searsport Planning Board.
Fast forward eight months. Representatives of DCP Midstream and its related companies are scarce on the ground in Searsport. Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert said he has little to no contact with the company, except through their hired attorney, Kelly Boden of Verrill Dana. Probert has expressed frustration at the lack of involvement of DCP and how slow they are at addressing questions from the planning board.
Meanwhile, opposition has solidified. Some people are adamantly opposed to the development. Others are seeking answers to questions about the safety implications and visual impact on the area. Among them, the group Thanks But No Tank (TBNT) has emerged as the mainstream opposition, moving through legal channels while working hard to develop a congenial dialogue with the Searsport Planning Board, mostly through their lead attorney, Steve Hinchman. TBNT is appealing the Searsport Planning Board’s decision to accept the DCP application for review.
TBNT is also talking with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding what Hinchman calls a “regulatory gap” for liquid propane. There is no legal wrangle, yet, but legal challenges to the Corps regulations have been a winning strategy in other states, leading to changes in federal regulations.
TBNT is also appealing permits granted by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Maine Fuel Board for incompleteness and for inconsistency. While those permit appeals are being considered, the developer is seeking to amend its approved DEP permit because they have moved the proposed location of their port-to-tank pipeline away from the shore. Hinchman says DEP can’t legally amend the permit while it is under appeal. DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho, an attorney and former oil industry lobbyist, who is charged with making the decision, says they can. However, Aho or no Aho, the relocation of the pipeline brings up a new problem for both DCP and the planning board: the pipeline now appears to cross Sprague property and public property. The question of whether DCP or its affiliates have the legal right to the land to be developed became convoluted because DCP has been using different company names, willy nilly, on various permits as if they were all the same. Legally, they aren’t. But public property has no such complications. DCP and affiliates clearly do not have permission to cross it, says Hinchman.
Meanwhile, Islesboro Island Trust, in collaboration with TBNT, has hired Good Harbor Consulting, run by Richard Clarke, a well-established security advisor in Washington, D.C., to do an all-hazards risk assessment of the proposed development that will take into account the land, the sea, the air, the people of Searsport and the region, emergency response capability and more.
The public hearings on the proposed DCP development will be held at the Searsport District High School cafeteria at 6 p.m. beginning Monday, November 26, and will reconvene each night at 6 p.m. on November 27, 28 and 29, or until all comments are heard. If additional time is needed for public comments, it will be scheduled at the November 29 session. For more information, contact the Searsport Town Office at 548-6372.