ROCKLAND, Maine — Emotions ran high Monday night as city councilors debated whether to intervene in the proposal to erect an 138-foot liquefied propane storage tank in Searsport.
Councilors last week had expressed support for sending a letter of concern to the Searsport Planning Board but on Monday night, councilors approved a different resolve that expressed support for the greater use of propane to serve rural Maine.
Councilor Larry Pritchett said the city should not intervene in the proceedings of the Searsport Planning Board. He noted Searsport residents rejected a moratorium on the storage tank complex during their March town meeting, when more than 500 people attended and rejected the moratorium 2-to-1.
Pritchett also challenged statements by some of the opponents to the liquefied propane gas terminal. He questioned how the height of the proposed 138-foot tank in Searsport would harm tourism when Dragon Products has a silo more than 300 feet tall and it does not harm the local tourism industry.
He said the entire project is one-third the size of FMC Corp.’s waterfront facility.
Pritchett also noted that while there may be more propane and natural gas tankers on the road, there are fewer heating oil trucks on the road.
Rockland Fire Chief Charles Jordan Jr. said Rockland could respond to a problem at the Searsport facility with personnel who are trained in hazardous material responses. He said he is not aware of a serious problem at such a facility in 30 years.
“I’m the guy that brought you residential sprinklers and asked for a prohibition on fireworks. If there was a potential problem, I would tell you,” Jordan said.
Pritchett offered a substitute letter which asks for the city to have a role in planning regulations for propane tankers on Penobscot Bay. The letter would be sent to the U.S. Coast Guard requesting that a Rockland representative be included in the stakeholder group developing the Bay Transit Management Plan for the proposed DCP project in Searsport. A copy of the letter also would be sent to the Searsport Planning Board.
Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson said she was angry that Pritchett replaced her resolve to send a letter of concern with a letter that would be opposite from the original intent.
Councilor William Clayton later asked his fellow councilors to tone it down, saying that some of the behavior was “pathetic.”
Dickerson interjected, “Are you calling me pathetic?”
Clayton said no but there was some sighing and eye rolling when Pritchett unveiled his revised resolve.
Larry Miller of Islesboro told councilors before their vote that the main concern was the size of the project and the danger of the material that would be brought into the bay and along the highway.
Councilors voted 4-1 with Dickerson opposed to send the letter drafted by Pritchett.
Miller had no comment on the vote after the meeting.
In other action Monday night, councilors voted unanimously to give preliminary support to an ordinance banning toll booth fundraisers on city streets. The council also gave initial approval to requiring a permit for future toll booth fundraisers off the street. Formal public hearings and final votes are scheduled for Aug. 13.