SEARSPORT, Maine — An audience of about 100 people in Searsport’s Union Hall Wednesday evening listened closely as the town’s planning board began its deliberations on the controversial liquid propane gas project proposed for the Mack Point industrial zone.
Flying knitting needles slowed and residents leaned closer to the board members as they voted at about 9 p.m. on the very first motion put forward in regard to the land use ordinance — that the buildings that would be erected in the town’s commercial district are not permitted in the zone for which they are proposed.
And in a unanimous show of hands, the five members of the Searsport Planning Board members voted in favor of that motion.
“They just voted this down,” a stunned David Italiaander, an opponent who has interested party status, whispered after the board made its vote. “They just denied the permit. I could dance, but [the board] said no demonstrations.”
Italiaander’s words, though likely very premature, were echoed by many of the project opponents in the room. Longtime Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert said after the meeting was adjourned that the board members will “revisit all of it.” After the board members go through and vote on the remainder of the town’s land use ordinances in relation to the propane tank and terminal proposal, they will then go through the site planning and shoreland zoning ordinances. The ultimate decision will be made based on the 18 performance standards laid out in the town ordinance. Those standards touch on air quality, soil erosion, water pollution, exterior lighting and preserving and enhancing the landscape, among other points.
Efforts after the meeting to speak with representatives from DCP Midstream, the company which has proposed building a $40-million, 14-story-tall propane gas terminal and storage tank, were unsuccessful. The project has received permits from agencies including the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It awaits only the decision from the all-volunteer Searsport planning board, whose members have heard hours and hours of testimony and been reading thousands of pages of briefs and written comments in preparation for the deliberations.
Probert said last weekend that the planning board will meet on several more occasions before making a final decision, with the next meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Union Hall. He expects the final decision to be made this spring.
“It’s all part of the process,” he said.
Planning Board alternate Lee-Ann Horowitz said at the very beginning of the board’s deliberations that she believes the board is not the right governing body to make a decision. She was the sole member to vote against Searsport having jurisdiction in the matter.
“I think this whole procedure should be dealt with in another venue completely,” she said. “It’s way out of our league.”
Kristin Collins, the planning board’s attorney, said that they had to try.
“We have to take a stab at it, so someone can tell us we’re wrong,” she said.
The first portion of Wednesday night’s meeting was taken up by final arguments from the interested parties, including DCP Midstream; Italiaander; Ed Bearor, the attorney for the owner of Angler’s Restaurant; and Steve Hinchman, attorney for opposition group Thanks But No Tank.