SEARSPORT, Maine — Two days after DCP Midstream spread the word that the company was withdrawing its application to construct a controversial liquid propane gas project at Mack Point industrial zone, the Searsport Planning Board doesn’t want to take any legal chances.
Board members continued to go through the application, point by point, during meetings Wednesday and Thursday, and expect to issue a final written decision by mid-April.
“It’s pretty obvious it won’t pass,” longtime Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert said Thursday afternoon. “But we’ll go through all the performance standards, the reasons, the findings and so forth. That puts it to bed — ties it in a nice, neat package with a bow on top.”
Earlier this week, he indicated that although officials from Denver-based DCP Midstream have sent an email and a letter stating that the company is withdrawing its application from the review process, the board rejected it. On the advice of its attorney the panel instead requested that DCP Midstream submit a new letter stating it was withdrawing its application “with prejudice.”
Without that legal wording, it is possible that the company, or one of its subsidiaries, could resubmit the application with small changes, Probert said.
“We want to put it to bed legally,” he said. “Just to make sure our i’s are dotted and our t’s are crossed. We don’t want to trip at the finish line.”
But Roz Elliott, spokesperson for DCP Midstream, said Thursday that she was perplexed by the planning board’s decision not to accept its application withdrawal.
“We withdrew. We withdrew as a courtesy,” she said, adding that no other letter would be coming. “As far as we’re concerned, they’re not reviewing anything, because there’s no application … if that’s how they want to spend their time and resources, they’re welcome to do that. We view it as unnecessary. We’re done. We’re done with this local process in Searsport. The local process has been very difficult in Searsport.”
But Probert said that it wouldn’t save much money to stop the proceedings now, after the town and the volunteer planning board members have put so much work into the lengthy process. DCP Midstream first came to Searsport three years ago with the idea of building a propane terminal there.
“We got right to the finish line. Let’s not mess this up,” he said.
Board members aren’t the only die-hards. Probert said that about 100 people filled Searsport’s Union Hall on Wednesday night for the planning board’s deliberations.
“I was surprised,” he said, given DCP’s announcement on Tuesday.
Although many in the region who opposed and feared the project have been celebrating the company’s decision to withdraw its application, the planning board chairman said that he didn’t feel the same way. Usually, the planning board works with applicants to resolve problems that come up. But in the case of the LPG project, there was no communication between board members and DCP Midstream.
“It was run like a legal court case. I wasn’t supposed to talk to them,” Probert said. “It’s not something to feel proud of. In a way we failed on it … I don’t look at it as a victory. We’re doing our job, and that’s all.”
He did say that over the last months of public hearings on the application, the town spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 on police presence and legal fees. The volunteer board members also put “an awful lot of time” on the matter over the last three years, he said, including reading a 30-inch-high pile of letters from people mostly opposed to the project.
On Tuesday, Probert was out of the house when the telephone began ringing with the news that DCP Midstream had withdrawn the application.
“When I came home, all hell had broken loose,” Probert said. “My wife said, ‘They’ve withdrawn! I get my husband back.’”