April 2, 2013

Controversial $40 million Searsport plan tanks

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SEARSPORT — The company that proposed building a 22 million-gallon liquid propane storage tank in Searsport is withdrawing its controversial application.

click image to enlarge

In this Friday, March 9, 2012 photo, signs in opposition to a proposed 23-million gallon propane tank are seen in Searsport, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

click image to enlarge

In this Friday, March 9, 2012 photo, a sign in opposition to a proposed 23-million gallon propane tank is seen in the front yard of a home in Searsport, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

A spokeswoman for Denver-based DCP Midstream Partners said Tuesday preliminary votes last week by the Searsport Planning Board indicate that the town ultimately will reject the final permit needed to build the $40 million terminal.

"We just don't think that it's necessary to carry forward the deliberations with the Planning Board, based on where they're at," said Roz Elliott. "We really appreciate the opportunity to have tried."

The project was the target of an intense campaign to defeat it. Public hearings this winter brought out large and emotional crowds who voiced concerns ranging from the visual impact of the 14-story storage tank to fears of a propane explosion.

Residents who opposed the project were quick to celebrate the company's decision.

Mac Economy, who owns the Yardarm Motel with her husband, said she turned up music from the band Mumford & Sons and started drinking wine soon after she heard the news.

"We have been dancing," she said Tuesday night.

Economy feared the tank and the continuous truck traffic it would generate could destroy her business, less than a half-mile from the site.

"I've been, for two years, thinking I'm screwed," she said.

Anne Crimaudo said she was in disbelief when she got the news Tuesday. She heard about it while shopping at the Belfast Co-op.

"I thought, well, I need to double-check this and make sure this is real," she said.

DCP Midstream Partners worked for years to line up the needed approvals for the project. It won permits from state and federal regulators, but still needed town approval from the Searsport Planning Board. In an initial vote last week, the board decided 5-0 that the project is not permitted in the zone in which it was proposed.

Mark Bradstreet, a board member, noted that the board still had six more days set aside for deliberations and hadn't started voting on other aspects of the application.

But he acknowledged the board's decision that the project's industrial use would encroach on a commercial zone and be too close to neighbors sent a signal to DCP Midstream Partners.

"An applicant can look ahead and decide it has lost too many battles to win the war," he said.

Some residents of nearby Islesboro had expressed safety concerns about propane tankers passing the islands in Penobscot Bay en route to Mack Point in Searsport.

Steve Miller, executive director of the Islesboro Islands Trust, said he thought the company would continue and perhaps pursue appeals if it got turned down for a permit.

He speculated that the company recognized the planned import terminal was no longer financially viable and used the Planning Board's action as a reason to pull out.

"I couldn't be happier," Miller said. "This is one of the best pieces of news I've ever received."

A post on the website for Thanks But No Tank, a group of residents and business owners who opposed the project, expressed some skepticism about Tuesday's news.

"While we feel enormous relief, we do have outstanding questions that need to be addressed," including plans for the company's federal and state permits, the post said. "It is our hope that this is truly the end of the line for this unwanted, unneeded, dangerous project."

The group's spokesman, Ken Agabian, said even if the project is dead, the group may continue working.

"We'd like to possibly grow it into the next phase and bring smart, balanced development into Searsport," he said.

The company faced the prospect of protracted legal challenge from opponents who were set to challenge an earlier permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Elliott, the company spokeswoman, said the board's vote was "disappointing and surprising." She thanked the people and companies that supported the project.

DCP Midstream Partners first proposed the terminal as a way to import propane to Maine and decrease the state's dependence on oil. Since then, market conditions have changed and terminals are being converted to export propane.

The company disclosed in a recent quarterly financial briefing that it exported 6 million gallons of propane from its terminal in Chesapeake, Va., in January, and is making engineering changes for additional shipments.

The company owns a rail terminal in Auburn where it transports propane, but Elliott said its experience in Searsport means it won't make further investments in Maine.

-- Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers contributed to this report.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

tturkel@pressherald.com

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