SEARSPORT, Maine — A sometimes-rowdy crowd of about 350 people jammed into Searsport’s Union Hall on Thursday evening to ask questions of a company that has proposed building a $40 million propane terminal at the Mack Point industrial zone.
But at times during the three-hour-plus town hall meeting, it seemed as if many in the audience were just glad to have a chance to tell company officials, their neighbors and others from around the state exactly what they think of the controversial project.
Some decried the impact the propane storage tank, which is zoned to be as high as 128 feet tall, would have on the view. Others talked about the area’s need for good jobs, at least a dozen of which company officials said would be created permanently if the project goes through. Many said that the project would hurt tourism, reduce property values, increase truck traffic and be a danger to the region.
“This carrot that you’re waving, these jobs, the bulk of them aren’t permanent,” said Jeannie Lucas of Searsport. “Yet the changes you’re making to our landscape are permanent.”
Company officials tried to respond to the comments and questions.
“You control this process. It’s your town. We understand that,” Chris Lewis of Denver-based DCP Midstream said at the beginning of the night.
Searsport residents will vote at the March annual town meeting on a six-month moratorium on major projects. The moratorium is supported by Thanks but no Tank, a grass-roots group opposed to the terminal project. It is not supported by DCP Midstream and others in the crowd who wore stickers proclaiming their dislike of the moratorium.
“Searsport is holding the whole state hostage,” said one man who did not share his name.
But many in the audience cheered in agreement when Searsport property owner Barry Lambert, who lives in Bangor, said that he felt the decision should not be made locally.
“Everything I’ve got is invested in this community,” he said. “A lot of us are going to be impacted by this thing. To me, this should be a state referendum, not just Searsport.”
Applause was also elicited by Searsport resident Marina Macho when she stood up and asked attendees to raise their hands if they were concerned about the lack of jobs in the community.
“Twelve jobs are better than none,” she said.
DCP Midstream officials explained that they chose Searsport for the project because of its deep-water port, its industrial zoning and its central location in Maine. They said they became aware that Maine needed another source for propane when Gov. John Baldacci made an emergency call to the company in 2007 because a Canadian rail strike and a cold snap threatened the state’s propane supply.
“That was a call to action for DCP,” company president Bill Waldheim said.
Some in the crowd came from outside of midcoast Maine.
Gerald Michaud of Gardiner is a union iron worker. He held a sign that read, “I support the tank! Jobs for Searsport!!”
When one local business owner said that the propane project might kill area tourism, which has struggled during the recession, Michaud fired back.
“If one tank is going to affect the whole tourism area, maybe you don’t have enough to offer,” he said.
Charlene Knox Farriss, Searsport’s official historian, took a long view.
“What’s the life expectancy of this tank?” she wanted to know. “When this tank is no longer viable to your company, do you guarantee to future generations of Searsport you’ll tear it down?”