Fuel tank promoters fight back in Searsport

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 19, 2012, at 8:32 p.m.

SEARSPORT, Maine — The developers behind a proposed major propane terminal project on the midcoast are fighting back against what they characterize as misinformation being spread by project opponents.

DCP Midstream, a Denver-based company, has opened up a campaign headquarters in Searsport and plans to hold town halls, job fairs and trade fairs in order to persuade residents that the project will be a net positive for the community. Company officials say the project will be safe, won’t generate excessive truck or tanker ship traffic, will create good jobs and will help provide fuel security for Maine — despite what those opposed to it believe.

“We really want to make sure folks get the facts,” company spokesperson Roz Elliott said Thursday afternoon at a Bangor Daily News editorial board meeting. “Literally, we just sit in coffee shops, fighting misconceptions.”

The company has yet to submit a permit application from the town of Searsport for the $40 million terminal project. But if built as described, four to six propane tanker ships each year will offload the liquid fuel from the North Sea at Mack Point’s existing cargo pier. The propane would be pumped through a mile-long pipeline that would run to a very large storage tank at the DCP terminal.

The size of that tank has been a focal point for project opposition. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has signed a permit for a 138-foot-tall propane tank, which would tower over the 30 or so 50-foot-tall tanks already in place at the point. The propane would remain in liquid form, cooled to 45 degrees below zero, and eventually be offloaded to trucks and rail cars at the terminal for distribution throughout Maine and potentially to other locations in northern New England.

“If something comes in of this size, it’s going to change our entire landscape here,” Astrig Tanguay of Thanks but no Tank said last month. “We want to frame the conversation, ‘How will this benefit our town and our region?’”

The grass-roots group, as its name implies, is working to keep the project out of town. A November protest against the project attracted more than 100 impassioned, sign-wielding people to the side of Route 1 in town.

“The beauty of the harbor will be ruined,” protester Judy Kaiser of Waldo said then. “It will be so huge and so tall you will be able to see it from Acadia National Park. It will ruin our coastline.”

Thanks but no Tank was instrumental in getting signatures on a petition for a six-month moratorium on major projects in Searsport. Residents will vote on the moratorium in March during the annual town meeting.

Elliott said that she and other company officials would like Searsport residents to know that the 12 to 15 full-time jobs created if the project goes through would be a far cry from the “gas attendant” work that opponents describe.

“I consider us professionals — probably the highest-trained propane professionals in the industry,” said Jeff Hurteau of DCP Midstream. “These are folks who will be much more significantly trained than a gas station attendant.”

They would be paid from $19 to $27 an hour, with benefits and the chance of overtime. Additionally, a work force of about 100 people would be employed over 18 months to construct the terminal, he and Elliott said. Once the terminal is up and running, the company plans to hire contractors to do work not related to propane such as plowing snow, welding and plumbing.

Hurteau said that despite the stated fears of many in the midcoast, the terminal will be safe.

“There’s a lot of misinformation,” he said. “We just want to provide the correct information.”

As for the height of the project, Hurteau and Elliott said that the footprint of the site is keeping the company from designing two storage terminals or one wider, shorter terminal. DCP Midstream does plan to have about 13 feet of the terminal underground.

“We have purposefully bought more land than we need, in order to create buffers,” she said.

Hurteau said that the company will be a good neighbor to Searsport.

“Even the opponents of this project, if we go forward, they’ll benefit,” he said.

DCP Midstream officials will hold a town hall meeting to discuss the terminal project at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, at Union Hall in Searsport.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/01/19/business/oil-tank-promoters-fight-back/ printed on April 25, 2014