June 19, 2018
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Doing right for Searsport

Courtesy of Peter Wilkinson
Courtesy of Peter Wilkinson
Individuals and members of various area organizations got together in 2012 to protest and show the size of the liquid propane gas storage tank that has been proposed for the Mack Point industrial zone in Searsport. More than 230 people held hands in a circle that they said was 200 feet in diameter, the width of the proposed tank.

During the last year, the Searsport Planning Board heard from hundreds of people worried about a massive, 14-story liquid propane gas terminal proposed for the town’s Mack Point. Many wrote letters to the editor and OpEds opposing the plan by Denver-based DCP Midstream to build what would have been one of the largest tanks of its kind in the country.

The local planning board members, led by J. Bruce Probert, deserve credit for remaining strong under intense pressure, doing their jobs and ultimately finding that certain elements of the project did not meet rules in a town ordinance. And it’s welcome news that the company is withdrawing its application.

The decision is validation for the many people both in Searsport and throughout Maine who spoke out strongly and regularly against the plan and for those who laid out, and approved, the rules in the land-use ordinance.

On March 27, the planning board voted that the uses of buildings proposed to be built in the town’s commercial district were not permitted in that specific zone. And on Tuesday, DCP made the difficult but smart decision to pull the project, even though it had already received federal and state permits. Doing so not only saved the town and planning board from an even more laborious review process but also DCP from having to spend more money.

The tank project met opposition from towns from far and near. Planning board members sometimes received dozens of letters a day. Former Gov. John Baldacci weighed in. The proposed project drew national media attention.

Those who supported the tank said it would create jobs and possibly improve the local economy. But those in opposition said the tank would be an eyesore, would not fit in harmoniously with the surrounding environment and could pose a safety hazard.

It would have been easy for the board to feel swayed, but Probert said from the beginning the board would stick to the rules. “We want the process not to deviate from the way we’ve done things” by not favoring input from opponents or proponents and following the zoning ordinance “right to the letter,” he said last summer.

That’s what he and the board did. DCP’s application withdrawal is recognition of that fact.

On Tuesday, Probert said DCP’s withdrawal can’t be called a victory. That only would have come if opponents had their concerns allayed, and they and DCP found a way to agree.

“What I feel is a victory is when you come up against a problem of one sort or another, and you’re able to find solutions to it,” he said. “We have a decision here, but not necessarily a solution.”

Still, he is looking forward to mending relationships within the town and continuing on with the regular work of the board. At the very least, DCP’s decision will allow the town to start to bring bitterness between neighbors to an end.

“Hopefully, we’ll all be friends again,” he said. “We’re pretty quiet. It’s a small town. Let’s get back to normal. We have a regular planning board meeting Monday night.”

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