Following public input, Searsport will decide next year whether tank can be built

Chandler Lippett, an attorney for DCP Midstream, gestures to an aerial photo of the Mack Point port facility in Searsport during Monday night's planning board meeting.
Chandler Lippett, an attorney for DCP Midstream, gestures to an aerial photo of the Mack Point port facility in Searsport during Monday night's planning board meeting.
Posted Nov. 30, 2012, at 6:46 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 01, 2012, at 7:31 a.m.

SEARSPORT, Maine — While public hearings on DCP Midstream’s application to build a 138-foot-tall, 23-million-gallon liquid propane tank continued for a fifth night Friday, the planning board’s actual deliberations on the project won’t start until next year.

Bruce Probert, longtime chairman of the volunteer town board, who has been praised by those on both sides of the contentious issue for being fair and forbearing, said he wants the general public to have a good understanding of the project. He believes there has been a lot of confusion on the part of some who have not followed the process since the company applied nearly a year ago.

“Some people think it’s approved already,” Probert said. Others think the board invited the company to build in town. Neither is true.

“This is a process,” he said.

That process for the board began during the late spring, when it began evaluating DCP’s application for the $40 million project to determine whether it was complete. The board had the discretion to ask the applicant for more information, and it did — including requiring DCP to pay for an independent economic impact study.

After determining in October that the application was complete, the board started the public hearing process this week. Thanks But No Tank, the local opposition group, the Islesboro Islands Trust and some groups and individuals were granted interested party status, which let them question and cross-examine the applicant.

Throughout, Probert has taken a broad view of who can speak, overruling the attorneys on both sides who have tried to limit comment from some.

Initially, the hearings were supposed to end Thursday night, but Probert said Friday night was added to allow members of the general public to comment on the proposal, both for and against.

“They’ve been there four nights and haven’t been able to speak,” he said.

After Friday night, the board is not expected to meet again until January. The board will not hold its regular December meeting, Probert said, in part because there are no pending applications from other developers. On Jan. 14, the board will hold its regular meeting to address matters unrelated to the tank proposal. That meeting is set to start at 6:30 p.m. at Union Hall.

Then, on Jan. 16, the board will reconvene at 6 p.m. in the Searsport District High School cafeteria, and if the public comments are completed, members will begin reviewing the application against the land use ordinance’s performance standards. The board will conduct a deliberative “finding of fact” on each standard, voting that the project does or does not meet that standard, depending on the board’s conclusions.

DCP’s project is considered a permitted use under the ordinance in the industrial district for which it is proposed. But local planning boards are able to deny permits based on such factors as impact on property values, scenic views and traffic.

DCP has won the necessary permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Ultimately, though, as Probert has observed during the hearings this week, the project likely will be headed to Superior Court, as both the applicant and opponents are likely to appeal a planning board decision unfavorable to their side.

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