Searsport voters overwhelmingly reject propane tank moratorium

In this Friday, March 9, 2012 photo, Tim Sommer ties up a banner in opposition to a proposed 23-million gallon propane tank in Searsport, Maine.
In this Friday, March 9, 2012 photo, Tim Sommer ties up a banner in opposition to a proposed 23-million gallon propane tank in Searsport, Maine.
Posted March 10, 2012, at 6:29 p.m.
Last modified March 11, 2012, at 12:09 p.m.
Searsport moderator Faith Garrold instructs residents on which ballot to use during Saturday's town meeting attended by more than 460 residents.
Searsport moderator Faith Garrold instructs residents on which ballot to use during Saturday's town meeting attended by more than 460 residents. Buy Photo
Residents lined up to cast their ballots Saturday during the Searsport annual town meeting.
Residents lined up to cast their ballots Saturday during the Searsport annual town meeting. Buy Photo

SEARSPORT, Maine — Residents overwhelmingly rejected a proposed moratorium on a liquefied propane tank terminal at a town meeting Saturday.

Nearly 500 residents packed the Searsport District High School gymnasium to act on 40 warrant articles, but it was the moratorium that generated the bulk of the debate. The meeting began shortly after 9 a.m. Following an hour-long lunch break, debate on the moratorium did not start until 2 p.m. and concluded around 3 p.m.

Town Manager James Gillway noted after the meeting that DCP Midstream of Denver has to file an application with the town. The company has submitted an application to the Army Corps of Engineers, which is reviewing the proposal.

The DCP proposal for a 138-foot-tall propane storage tank at the Mack Point industrial zone has divided the town.

Resident Phil Wooley said that opponents of the tank proposal were basing their arguments on fear. Wooley noted he lived through the Great Depression and paraphrased President Franklin Roosevelt in opposing the moratorium.

“FDR said the worst thing is fear itself,” Wooley said.

Resident Jeff Ryan also argued against the moratorium.

“We don’t have enough jobs. We’re in economic hard times. We need jobs so our children do not leave here,” Ryan said.

He also disputed the impact on tourism from having the large storage tank in town.

“They don’t do the breathing, living and dying in the town,” Ryan said about tourists.

Darren Philbrick, who represents the town on the RSU 20 board, urged residents to nix the moratorium to attract businesses and help the school district. He noted the school district is facing an approximately $2.2 million revenue gap and that this project would generate property tax revenues for Searsport.

But the group that organized to oppose the tank, Thanks But No Tank, countered that the moratorium simply gave the town time to make sure its ordinances were adequate to protect the community. The group’s concerns centered on the safety of such a large tank in the community, environmental worries and increased traffic from propane trucks.

Jeannie Lucas noted that DCP has yet to provide a full-scale model of its tank project.

“I am a proponent of propane and a proponent of economic development,” Lucas said, but added that the moratorium would give the community time to analyze ordinances.

Under the moratorium, a nine-member review committee would have been established to review existing town ordinances and the town comprehensive plan to see if they “sufficiently protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Searsport from the development of LPG terminal and-or storage facility.”

If the committee found the ordinances and plan were inadequate, the panel would have developed proposed new ordinances that would be presented to the town for a vote either at a special town meeting within 60 days from when they are submitted to the Board of Selectmen or at the regular March town meeting.

Three members of the committee would be appointed by the board of selectmen, three from the group Thanks But No Tank and three from a randomly drawn pool of volunteers who are registered voters of the town.

Zaven Koltookian noted that he spent 25 years developing the Searsport Shores campground into one of the best in the country and that shouldn’t be threatened by the proposal from the Denver company. He said the campground, which he no longer owns, attracts 3,000 people a a year to Searsport.

Before the debate on the moratorium began, residents voted to limit debate to 20 minutes, equally between the two sides.

Residents sailed through the budget, approving the spending package as recommended by town officials.

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