Propane terminal application could come before Searsport this fall

By Tanya Mitchell | Sep 22, 2011
Source: This map shows (in gray) where the two areas of the town that are zoned as industrial district are located.

Searsport — A Colorado company that hopes to construct a propane terminal at Mack Point could have a formal application ready for planning board review as soon as mid-October.

Searsport Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert said the project proposal from Denver-based DCP Midstream has gotten the green light from the Maine Department of Transportation, but is still waiting on the final word from the state Department of Environmental Protection. The company is also waiting on letters of recommendation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard, and Probert said the planning board has required DCP Midstream to obtain approval from both of those agencies before bringing a formal application to the town.

"We want all of those things first," said Probert. "[Those agencies] have expertise that we don't have... We're just following the normal process."

The earliest Probert expects to see the company submitting an application is sometime in mid-October.

DCP Midstream does not have a formal application filed with the town at this time, in part because the town's land use ordinance, as it was formerly written, would have prohibited a structure of the height the company was proposing — a 137-foot-tall propane storage tank.

At the annual town meeting in March, however, voters narrowly approved an amendment to the ordinance that allowed a 150-foot height limit for structures including cranes, bulk fuel storage tanks, silos and grain elevators. The land use ordinance formerly allowed for accessory structures (cranes, silos and towers) of up to 125 feet in height, but the alterations to the ordinance also included changing the word “building” to “structure.” In addition, the 125-foot height limit in the ordinance that addressed accessory structures is no longer included in the ordinance language.

The ordinance changes were a hot topic at public informational meetings that stemmed from the proposal by DCP Midstream to build the propane storage tank on property at Mack Point. The planning board hosted two informational meetings, in addition to public meetings conducted by DCP Midstream staff. The company publicly announced its interest in building a facility in Searsport late last year. If constructed, the tank would measure 202 feet in diameter and have a capacity of more than 20 million gallons.

At the Monday, Sept. 12 planning board meeting, Probert updated the board on a recent meeting that included himself, DCP Midstream project manager David Graham and Searsport Town Manager James Gillway regarding the progress of the proposed project. During that sit-down, which Probert said took place about three weeks prior to the Sept. 12 meeting, Graham inquired about the next steps in the application process.

"He had some questions regarding the application, what we were going to want and how detailed we want it to be," Probert told the board.

Probert said he had asked Graham at that time to gather names of technical experts and consultants from whom the board could obtain professional assistance with reviewing the application and that he has yet to receive that information.

That information will be key for the board, Probert said this week, because if and when the board determines that the company's application is complete, "the clock starts ticking and there's a time schedule we need to follow."

Because the board consists of lay people who know little about propane gas developments, Probert said it is important to find a consultant who would be willing to go over the plans with an eye toward overall safety. That process, said Probert, is known as a peer review.

Due to the size and scope of DCP Midstream's proposal, Probert said the board would also need to schedule a special meeting to review the site plan, which would likely be scheduled sometime in November if the company submitted its application in October as anticipated. The board would schedule a public hearing as well, though Probert noted that it is not required to do so.

"It's not mandatory, but it'd be pretty arrogant if we didn't," said Probert.

Between the peer review, special board meeting and the public hearing, Probert said the board would be running on a timeline of between 30 and 60 days.

At the Sept. 12 meeting, Probert said he had asked Graham to contact DCP Midstream's engineering firm, Pennsylvania-based Matrix, and inquire about experts in the field that the board might ask to review the project plans.

Anglers Restaurant owner Buddy Hall, who has expressed concern about the project and its potential impacts on the local economy, asked Probert if that meant the board would use DCP Midstream's own engineering company as the consultant in the peer review process.

"Not necessarily," said Probert. "We need someone who's going to agree to do it and do it within the timeframe."

If the board determines that the application is not complete, Probert told Hall, the board will tell the company what information is needed and send them back to the drawing board.

Either way, said board member Lee-Ann Horowitz, it's not something that will happen overnight.

"It'll be a long process," she said.

Hall expressed concern that it may be tough to find consultants to work with the town in the peer review stage because there are about 14 facilities like the one DCP Midstream is proposing in the country.

"I'd like to think there are more than 14 people who are knowledgeable on it," said Probert.

Probert added that Graham has indicated that the company does not intend to submit complete engineer's drawings with its application.

"His statement was that they're not going to be spending millions more on an engineer until they have approval," said Probert.

Hall asked the board to require the company to submit final drawings before the application can be approved.

"This sounds like Washington, D.C.," said Hall.

"We'll see what we get, and if it's adequate," said Probert.

"We may say, 'No, we want more,'" said Horowitz.

Probert said this week that it was not unusual for the board to consider an application on a development without final drawings.

"We don't go into that kind of detail; most places don't," he said.

Probert said the board might see diagrams and maps showing where certain features of a development might appear on a particular property, but rarely would it see detailed specifics such as "the size and make of the valves and the number of bolts on it."

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