Counterterrorism adviser misses Searsport meeting; others question town’s readiness for fires, explosions

Posted Feb. 11, 2013, at 11:11 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 12, 2013, at 7:44 a.m.

SEARSPORT, Maine — Winter weather once again foiled the attempts of former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke to speak against the proposed liquid propane gas project in Searsport, but the conversation continued without him Monday night at Searsport District High School.

It was the second time in two months that Clarke was scheduled to present at a Searsport Planning Board public hearing his Good Harbor Consulting firm’s findings that the project as planned poses too many risks and questions to be safely constructed in Searsport. Though Clarke’s flight to Maine from Washington, D.C., was canceled in the aftermath of the weekend blizzard, Frank Gallagher and Mike Lucy of the consulting firm spoke to a packed room of concerned residents, representatives from the company that wants to build the project, reporters and the planning board.

The pair discussed their findings that there are not clear strategies put in place for dire scenarios, including explosions and fires, should they take place at the $40 million, 23-million-gallon tank that DCP Midstream wants to build at Mack Point Industrial Zone. Gallagher and Lucy asked the planning board members a number of questions: Who would pay for the firefighting equipment and training? How would project neighbors evacuate the blast zone? Who will ensure that verbal agreements are followed through?

They said that while the chance that the project would be a terrorist target is slight, the more likely scenario that an accident could happen there, or that there could be a natural disaster of some type, is very troubling.

“There’s a lot of human interaction,” Lucy said. “The accidental risk with the introduction of the humans, quite frankly, screws things up. … Take a step back. What if it occurs? How do we respond to that? What systems are in place?”

Jamie Kilbreth, DCP Midstream’s lawyer in Maine, said that documents show that Good Harbor investigators focused on risk models that showed worst-case scenarios, such as a possible terrorist attack, instead of more ordinary situations.

The representatives from Good Harbor said that even though the Islesboro Islands Trust — a group that has opposed industrial development at the Mack Point port facility and on nearby Sears Island — last summer commissioned the study from their firm, their findings were still intended to be independent.

“Mr. Clarke made it clear we needed to take the unbiased approach. We’re not on one side or the other,” Lucy said. “We just want to present facts. There is a lot of rumors and a lot of misinformation out there — from both sides of the argument.”

The controversial project has been green-lighted by agencies including the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It now awaits a decision from the Searsport Planning Board, whose volunteer members have had several long evenings of public hearings to gather information and opinion in advance of their vote.

They also heard from Capt. Alan Moore of the Coast Guard, who said that Belfast-based Fournier Tugs will upgrade one of its vessels to be a certified firefighting tug if the project is built. He said that the Coast Guard acknowledges there are risks with the LPG project, and would work to develop a risk mitigation plan with the collaboration of nearby communities.

“I’d like to think that anybody would join in on a collaborative effort to reduce their risk and increase their safety,” he said in response to a local woman’s sharp questioning of why other towns would join in to help Searsport.

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