Tanya Mitchell of the Republican Journal report on events at the Thursday, November 29 Public Hearing
Residents raise concerns about safety, property values
Hearings to continue Friday night
Searsport — About 250 people heard area residents and businesspeople air their concerns Thursday, Nov. 29, about a proposed 22.7-million-gallon liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) terminal at Mack Point, with many expressing worry about property values, safety and the overall health of the local economy.
Thursday’s gathering at Searsport District High School was the fourth of five public hearings the Searsport Planning Board scheduled to gauge public sentiment on the development proposed by Colorado-based DCP Midstream.
As part of the presentations from interested parties, Thanks But No Tank attorney Steve Hinchman introduced panels representing varying facets of the local and regional community, including one comprised of local residents and another made up of local business owners.
Among the concerns each panel covered were significant drops in property values and a resulting slump in the local housing market, safety and adverse impacts on tourism.
Long Cove resident Tom Gocze said he and his wife bought and restored their historic home in 2002 and have since invested $162,000 in the structure, which they purchased for $249,000. Gocze said his family’s financial situation got tough two years ago, so they decided to put their home on the market. Gocze said that’s when he found out about the tank proposal by DCP, so the couple stalled their plans to see what would happen in the application process.
After consulting with an appraiser and a realtor, Gocze said he learned that his property could see a loss of up to 50 percent of its value if the tank were constructed as proposed.
To make matters worse, Gocze said, potential buyers have not responded well to the news that the home may soon neighbor a 138-foot-tall LPG storage tank.
“They said they loved the house, loved the location,” Gocze said. “Then they found out about the tank and said no way.”
At least one of those potential buyers purchased a home in another town soon after, said Gocze.
“It isn’t just abutters,” he said. “There’s going to be an impact, we know that.”
Jeannie Lucas said her home was appraised in 2009 and again this year. In those three years, Lucas said, her home lost an estimated $100,000 in equity and value. Lucas also posed a question to DCP representatives — if they had a choice between two identical dream homes, one in a typical rural neighborhood and one next to “mega tank,” which would each of them choose.
DCP attorney James Kilbreth responded to that query during his cross-examination.
“It would depend on whether I knew it was in an industrial zone,” said Kilbreth.
“My home is not in an industrial zone,” said Lucas.
At times during the meeting, Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert reminded the audience to avoid offering any audible reactions to the testimony, including any laughter. Thursday night’s hearing did not result in any incidents like what occurred on the previous night, when police officers removed Searsport resident Ben Crimaudo from the hearing.
The panel of businesspeople who spoke on their fears about the tank’s potential impacts included Steve Tanguay, co-owner of Searsport Shores Campground. Tanguay said that, in the 20 years since he had moved to Searsport and got into the campground business, it had grown significantly.
“Our business grew from an almost empty weekend July 4, 1993, to almost record occupancy,” said Tanguay.
When the stock market crashed a few years ago, though, Tanguay said, they had to change their business model and entice visitors to stay for multiple nights by promoting eco-tourism as well as destination points in the region.
“They would go to Bar Harbor for a day trip and stay here,” said Tanguay.
To that end, Tanguay said, they moved more of their operations away from the shoreline — where guests can see existing industrial developments at Mack Point, particularly since Homeland Security requirements have meant additional lighting and fencing — and added thicker walls to some rental units to reduce noise.
During cross-examination, Kilbreth asked Tanguay if his guests could see the existing tank farm at Mack Point.
“Yes, sir,” said Tanguay.
“And you were able to grow your business notwithstanding?” said Kilbreth.
Tanguay said they could grow, but in recent years the growth has been due to the changes in the business plan and additions of regional events like Fiber College.
“We’ve pushed that as far as we can, sir,” said Tanguay.
After hearing from the remainder of the business owners, Kilbreth asked the board — which is tasked with determining whether the proposed project meets performance standards outlined in town ordinances — if tourism is listed as a performance standard.
“It’s pretty clear economic impact is fundamental to almost all of the performance standards,” countered Hinchman.
Hinchman said Thursday night that he planned to present testimony from several more panels, who would speak to issues that had not been discussed to date, but he told Probert he would hold off on those presentations until the public hearings the Board has scheduled for January.
Thursday, Probert announced the second series of public hearings, which will include the results of the independent all risks hazard assessment on the project from Good Harbor Techmark, a study that was commissioned by Islesboro Island Trust last fall.
The January hearings, which Probert said would span three consecutive nights, are to reconvene Wednesday, Jan. 16, and continue through Friday, Jan. 18. All of the hearings will take place at SDHS at 6 p.m.
Friday night’s public hearing will be dedicated to comments and questions from the public, Probert said. The hearing will begin at 6 p.m.