SEARSPORT, Maine — For four evenings next week, the Searsport Planning Board will sit down and listen to people share their thoughts — both for and against — a $40 million liquid propane gas terminal and storage tank proposed for the Mack Point Industrial Zone.
The public hearings will begin at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 26, and continue through Thursday, Nov. 29.
And although the board will not decide whether to approve DCP Midstream’s application at the end of the series of meetings, the board members said they do expect to learn more about the thoughts of people from around the area in regard to the major project.
The Denver-based fuel company has received permits for the terminal and 22.7 million gallon storage tank from entities that include the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard.
It awaits only approval from the town of Searsport.
“We’re just waiting for whatever input at the public hearings,” George Kerper, who sits on the planning board, said recently.
A lot of that input will surely be coming from people who are staunch opponents of the project. They include Pam McKeen and Cary Slocum, both of Belfast, who set up a table Monday outside the Belfast Co-op to get people to write letters to the Searsport Planning Board.
They also were part of a Sunday demonstration outside of Waterfall Arts in Belfast, during which more than 230 people held hands in a circle the size of the proposed propane storage tank. In the middle of the circle, a balloon floated 14 stories above the ground, the maximum height the tank could stretch.
“I’m worried about safety and health,” Slocum said. “I worry that Searsport will turn into a slum because people won’t be shopping there.”
McKeen said that her primary concern is health.
“There’s going to be a big flare burning off toxic fumes that we’ll be breathing in,” she said. “If there was a problem with the tank, it would be a far-reaching environmental disaster.”
“Of epic proportions,” Slocum chimed in.
By midday, the two women held out a thick fistful of letters — counting more than 40 — to be mailed to the planning board. They said that people and groups against the project are trying to organize many individuals to lend their voices to the public hearings.
But DCP Midstream also will be represented during the meetings by several company officials who will make a presentation to the planning board and also answer questions, according to Rosslyn Elliott, company spokesperson.
According to Kerper, while the planning board recently found the company’s application to be complete, questions raised by the attorney from opposition group Thanks But No Tank will cause the board to again look into whether the application really is complete.
He also said that board members will ultimately decide whether or not the propane project meets the performance standards written in Searsport’s ordinances.
The board won’t make that decision until January or after, Kerper said. Board members are expecting to get the results of a risk assessment of the project that is being done by Good Harbor Consulting and that was commissioned in August by the Islesboro Islands Trust. The consulting firm is headed by former White House counterterrorism advisor Richard A. Clarke.
“We’d like to hear that study as soon as it gets completed,” Kerper said.
Correction: The wrong credit was inadvertently attached to the photo presented with this story. The photo was contributed by Peter Wilkinson.