SEARSPORT, Maine — A near-capacity crowd listened carefully Thursday night as panels composed of project neighbors, business owners and Islesboro residents outlined their deep concerns about the proposed liquid propane gas terminal and storage tank that a Denver company wants to build at the Mack Point industrial zone.
It was the Searsport Planning Board’s fourth of five public hearings scheduled to take place this week in the Searsport District High School cafeteria. The board members have heard testimony from opposition groups such as Thanks But No Tank, Denver-based company DCP Midstream, project neighbors and other residents.
The worries that some of those neighbors and residents discussed Thursday included a major anticipated drop in property value, a depressed housing market, far fewer tourists than usual, safety concerns, light pollution and more. The $40 million, 23 million-gallon project would include a tank that would stretch 138 feet high and about 200 feet wide.
“If the tank is built, the natural beauty of the area will be forever altered,” said Diane Stevens, who lives close to the tank site. “We love our home, our little gardens. Our property would lose value if the tank is built. We don’t want to give up our assets so some big company can make a profit. If the tank were built, there’d be many changes to our way of life.”
Another project neighbor, Jeannie Lucas, said that her home was appraised in 2009, before the project began, and again this year. It lost $100,000 in equity and value, or 23 percent of its total value, in that time, she said.
“The DCP megatank is already taking a toll on the housing market,” she said. “Let them buy up the affected areas. Don’t make us pay for it.”
Resident Ted Kessler said that he and his wife chose to retire to Searsport in 2003 and noted that “just the possibility” of the tank has had a detrimental affect on the housing market.
“My family will be saddled with a significant financial loss,” he said. “For folks in our age bracket, this is especially acute … please don’t approve this project.”
After each panel made its presentation, DCP Midstream attorney Jamie Kilbreth asked questions and asked for clarifications. One of the exchanges grew a little testy when he challenged Lucas’ assertion that no one would want to live in an industrial zone.
“Are you aware that this is in an industrial zone?” the attorney asked.
“My house is not an industrial zone, nor do I want it to become one,” she said.
Bruce Probert, chairman of the planning board, worked to tamp down crowd noise, including laughter and other sounds from the estimated 250 people in the room. There was not another incident like the one that occurred on Wednesday night, when police escorted Searsport resident Ben Crimaudo out of the room after an exchange of some sort with an officer. Crimaudo, 75, came back to the hearings on Thursday.
Another panel included local business owners who are concerned about negative consequences of the tank.
Brenda Liston, one of the owners of the Captain A.V. Nicholls Inn on Route 1, said that she and her husband have invested about $500,000 in fixing up the sea captain’s house since they purchased it in early 2011. This past summer, they hired 10 people to work in the restaurant and hosted guests from all over the country.
“Our hope was to grow the business even further,” Liston said. “We can’t do that if we’re talking about being in the middle of an industrialized community.”
Steven Tanguay, who runs Searsport Shores Campground, described Searsport now as “a spider web of support.” If the project drives some businesses away from town, it will weaken the area’s economy, he said.
“The community needs each other,” Tanguay said.
After hearing from Liston, Tanguay and other concerned business owners, Kilbreth addressed the planning board members, who are tasked with deciding if the project’s application meets the town’s land use standards.
“When, in any of the ordinances, is tourism listed as a performance standard?” he asked.
The public hearing process continues at 6 p.m. Friday at the high school.