In the next few weeks DCP Midstream, the largest supplier of propane to the state of Maine, is likely to file an application for a permit to build a 22.7-million-gallon propane tank at a 24-acre commercial site on Mack Point in Searsport, according to Searsport Town Manager James Gillway.

The 138-foot-tall tank would be one of the largest in the country. Its size and capacity have sparked local protests against the project and raised concerns over the safety of propane storage and truck movement through town, tourism values, visual impact, light and industrial noise.

DCP Midstream, which estimates the current consumption of propane fuel in Maine at 90 million gallons a year, has relied on rail terminals in Bangor and Lewiston-Auburn to move propane into Maine, mostly from western Canada where it is produced as a by-product of natural gas production. As the Canadian supply has become less dependable and more expensive, the company has begun to diversify its sources. Shipping fuel allows the company to move propane from the North Sea, north Africa and the Middle East. Propane, which is one of the liquefied petroleum gases (LP or LPG) is also a by-product of refining crude oil.

The proposed development also raises questions about environmental and public safety preparedness and response at Mack Point.

Propane, unlike the gasoline products and some of the chemical products already produced at Mack Point, is nontoxic if spilled in freshwater or saltwater, nor does it harm soil if spilled on the ground or harm drinking water supplies. While it is not toxic, other products at Mack Point are and those opposed to the DCP propane tank seek answers to how likely a propane-fueled explosion would be and what would happen if a public emergency arises just outside of town.

Searsport residents who thought the project needed more scrutiny collected enough signatures for an article to be placed on the ballot for the March 10 town meeting that would allow voters to decide if a six-month moratorium on building the tank should be imposed, to allow time for a thorough assessment of town ordinances.
The Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) Terminal Moratorium request, as submitted to the Searsport select board, states that the "Purpose of this Ordinance is to protect the public health, safety and welfare of the Town of Searsport, by giving the Town the opportunity to review its comprehensive plan and/or ordinances relating to industrial development of ... LPG terminals and storage facilities."

The document describes the necessity of the moratorium as follows: "Serious public harm from development of a liquefied fuel terminal may include, but is not limited to, negative environmental impacts on both the natural and human environments, negative traffic impacts, negative visual impacts, reduction in property values, and a negative economic impact on ... Route 1 businesses dependent upon tourism. The Town requires time to review its Comprehensive Plan, Land Use Ordinance, and Site Plan Review Ordinance to ensure that (they) ... protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the Town of Searsport."

The moratorium, if passed, requires establishing an independent committee of nine Searsport residents to review the town ordinances. The committee would include three members appointed by the select board, three members appointed by "Thanks, but no Tank," the citizen group opposed to the DCP Midstream project, and three members randomly chosen from among willing Searsport voters.

On Tuesday, December 6, the Searsport select board approved the bid to place the moratorium question on the ballot, 5-0.

If the article passes at town meeting, the moratorium would be retroactive to November 23, 2011, and therefore put the brakes on the site permit application by DCP Midstream that is expected to be filed with the planning board later this month. The planning board is likely to take up the DCP Midstream permit application at their next regularly scheduled meeting, on Monday, January 9, 2012. From there, the permitting process can move forward,

but it cannot conclude until after the town

meeting.

Site approval would stall if the moratorium is approved. The moratorium will end on May 20, unless extended by the select board.