SEARSPORT, Maine — A risk assessment study released this week by former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke recommends that the town of Searsport not proceed with a $40 million, 23 million gallon liquid propane gas terminal and storage tank project.
The Islesboro Islands Trust this summer commissioned the study from Clarke’s firm, Good Harbor Consulting. The island land conservation group has opposed industrial development on Searsport’s Sears Island and the Mack Point port facility, where Denver-based DCP Midstream has proposed building the energy project.
The controversial project has received permits from agencies including the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The project now awaits a decision from the Searsport Planning Board, whose volunteer members have long indicated their willingness to examine Clarke’s findings. Clarke will make a presentation on the matter on Wednesday during the first of three scheduled public hearings this week about the liquid propane gas project. The hearings will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Searsport District High School, with subsequent sessions planned for 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
“I think it’s good news for Penobscot Bay,” Steven Miller of the Islesboro Islands Trust said Monday afternoon of Clarke’s recommendation that the planning board deny permits to DCP Midstream. “It’s good news for all of us.”
But Roz Elliott of DCP Midstream said Monday afternoon that after examining the long report, she and others at the company were not impressed with its conclusions or methodology.
“This report is questionable on so many fronts,” she said. “There was certainly a long delay of three months for a report that makes several assertions without any backup.”
Among the 138-page report’s findings:
• Regional public safety and security resources are not sufficient to address a significant land or maritime incident.
• Although agencies including the Searsport Police Department and the Searsport Fire Department signed “letters of compliance” in regards to their ability to respond to incidents, “no emergency management plans have been developed” to show how compliance will be established and maintained.
• There are no dedicated marine firefighters in the immediate area, or teams trained to respond to an incident involving a fire aboard an LPG carrier.
• The waterway in Penobscot Bay needs to be dredged before building the project.
• If LPG facilities were regulated as strictly as liquid natural gas facilities, the one in Searsport would not meet the federally regulated criteria. “LPG and LNG pose serious risks,” the report stated.
Additionally, Clarke questioned whether Searsport is really the right place to locate a gas import facility.
“If the price of gas continues to decline and if there are alternative, cost-effective measures to transport gas to the region, the Searsport facility may become a shuttered eyesore, unable to financially support the emergency response augmentation that building the facility requires,” stated the report’s executive summary.
Elliott of DCP Midstream said that, among other things, Clarke appeared in the report to essentially attack the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Congress by stating that they hadn’t taken federal statutes far enough.
“That’s insulting to those agencies that take safety very seriously,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to Wednesday night to rebut this report’s inaccuracies and sloppiness.”
Bruce Probert, chairman of the Searsport Planning Board, said he was looking forward to hearing Clarke’s ideas. The report originally had been expected to be completed in November, he said, adding that he would have been “very surprised” if Clarke had determined the facility to be a good idea for the area.
Islesboro Islands Trust officials have said that although they commissioned the risk assessment report, Good Harbor Consulting is an independent agency.
“I look at it with an open mind,” Probert said. “The more information you get, the better. We take constructive criticism, or ideas. Maybe Clarke has some good ideas in there.”
However, the planning board ultimately will make its decision based on Searsport’s ordinances, he said.
“Not by whether someone says ‘We want it or we don’t want it,’” Probert said.