SEARSPORT, Maine — Opponents of a massive liquid propane gas project did not get to hear former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke explain during a public hearing about the proposal on Thursday night the risk assessment study released this week by his firm.
Clarke’s agency, Good Harbor Consulting, found that the $40 million project was too dangerous to be located at the Mack Point industrial zone in Searsport, but he reportedly could not wait in Maine an extra day to go over those findings after Wednesday’s snowstorm delayed the start of public hearings.
Clarke won’t be able to make his case before the Searsport Planning Board until the week of Feb. 11, according to an attorney for the opponents’ group. The planning board chairman took discussion of the report off the table until then.
More than 200 people, including retirees, real estate professionals and economists, came to the Searsport District High School cafeteria on Thursday to listen to the proceedings.
David Italiaander of Searsport led with his testimony that Searsport’s growing reputation as “the town with the tank” is hurting the local economy. He said that he has been having a hard time finding tenants for his downtown building because of that reputation.
“The proposed LPG terminal threatens the economic foundations of the this town,” he told the planning board.
Italiaander, who said he has a background in international trade, also spoke about his belief that Denver-based DCP Midstream will use the terminal and storage tank to export liquid propane gas instead of importing it. This would mean that local traffic would be affected year-round, instead of just in the winter, which is the busy season for propane, he told the board.
But Jamie Kilbreth, DCP Midstream’s attorney in Maine, decried the suggestion.
“Are you seriously suggesting that DCP moves its propane from Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado to Maine to export rather than Houston?” he asked. “It cannot be used as an export terminal as it’s designed and proposed. This idea is just a nonstarter.”
Local real estate broker Elaine Tucker also testified about the shadow that the 14-story tank would cast over the real estate market. She said that values of properties located near the tank would drop 25 percent or more.
“Buyers are not coming to midcoast Maine to be near an industrial site,” she said.
When Kilbreth suggested that the recently released Good Harbor report was causing the problem, Tucker refuted the idea.
“Certainly not,” she said. “I’ve been hearing about the tank from buyers for a year now. Believe me, it’s not good news for the area.”
More anti-project testimony was given by Mark Anderson of the University of Maine School of Economics. He said that the development was likely to harm the tourist economy.
“People come here to get away from things such as this,” he said.
Kilbreth asked if Anderson had ever seen the Dragon Cement plant in Thomaston, or the power plant on Cousins Island in Casco Bay — both major industrial facilities located in popular regions along the coast.
“The basis of tourism in this part of Maine is fundamentally different than in Rockland or in Casco Bay,” Anderson replied.
Two retirees also testified about their concerns over plunging property values and health risks that might be associated with such a project. Marge Knuuti said that she has been seeking for months how many decibels of noise would be emitted by the project, but to no avail.
DCP Midstream project engineer David Graham told the board that he didn’t have an answer for her question but that the project would have to meet standards for noise set by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
The public hearings will continue at 6 p.m. Friday in the Searsport District High School cafeteria.