Opposition growing to 137-foot-tall propane tank in Searsport

Posted Sept. 28, 2011, at 7:54 p.m.

SEARSPORT, Maine — More midcoast environmental activists are gearing up to try to halt — or at least shrink — a proposed 14-story-tall propane terminal developers want to erect here on the shores of Penobscot Bay.

“It’s all very sad,” project opponent Christopher Hyk said Wednesday. “It’s such a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful spot, and it’s in jeopardy.”

The Belfast man said he already has hired a lawyer and if the Maine Department of Environmental Protection grants final approval to a permit for Denver-based propane company DCP Midstream’s 137-foot-tall tank in the Mack Point industrial zone he will appeal.

“It’s going to be a major thing on the horizon,” Hyk said. “I think we have to take it in the context of the Penobscot Bay region rather than the context of Mack Point.”

But a company official said Wednesday that DCP Midstream is committed to addressing the concerns of residents and feels that the project has been supported “every step of the way.”

“This facility is critical to serve the needs of Maine and the larger New England community during the winter heating system, and also for the jobs and investment opportunities it will bring to the local economy,” said spokeswoman Lisa Newkirk.

About a dozen permanent, full-time jobs would be created at the terminal, company representatives said last winter, with as many as 100 jobs created during the construction phase.

The Searsport Planning Board will be the deciding authority on whether the project gets built. Before DCP Midstream can submit a project application to the board, officials need to have secured permits from the Maine DEP, the Maine Department of Transportation, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard, according to Searsport Town Manager James Gillway.

The Maine Department of Transportation already has issued a permit, he said, and the Coast Guard will hold a meeting for stakeholders at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 30, at the Penobscot Marine Museum.

Robin Clukey of the Maine DEP said the project has been under review since June, but all 28 comments the agency has received about it have arrived since Sept. 1. She said that the agency should make its final ruling on the application within the next month. The agency issued on Sept. 12 a draft approval of the terminal project.

Despite that approval, people such as Hyk and Stephen Miller of the Islesboro Islands Trust are continuing to encourage people to protest its construction as planned. More and more people have started to pay attention to the terminal project, according to Miller.

“Some folks are concerned about noise,” he said. “We deal with the environmental integrity — that includes visual impacts and scenic values … We don’t even really know with certainty what the visual impact is meant to be. It’s the need for more information that’s our primary concern right now.”

The immensity of the project has polarized the community since it first was proposed last winter. Although DCP Midstream was not obligated to do so, according to Gillway, officials came to Searsport to hold a series of informational meetings.

After listening to the company’s presentation, some residents spoke positively about the chance for more jobs and industry in their town. But others worried about possible safety hazards of having so much fuel stored at the point, noise and the change that a 137-foot tall storage tank would make to the region’s mostly undeveloped skyline.

Residents at the annual town meeting in March voted 79-66 in favor of amending the land use ordinance in the Mack Point industrial zone to allow much taller structures, thereby opening the door to the Denver company’s application.

Fuel tanks already at the terminal measure about 50 feet tall — tall enough, for activists such as Ron Huber of Penobscot Bay Watch.

“DCP-Midstream’s proposed facility … would be tall enough to emerge into numerous protected scenic viewsheds of the bay region,” he wrote the Maine DEP. “We urge the department to require the application to design its proposal facility to fit as harmoniously as possible into the existing environment, by limiting the elevation of the proposal LPG tank to a height similar to existing tank farms of Mack Point, even if it requires two tanks instead of one.”

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