Searsport board says LPG tank plan complete

Posted Wednesday, November 7, 2012 in Investigation

Searsport board says LPG tank plan complete

Searsport Planning Board Chair Bruce Probert makes a point while Kristin Collins, lawyer for the board, listens.
(Cartwright photo)

by Steve Cartwright

The application to erect a 14-story, $40 million liquid propane gas tank in midcoast Maine has been ruled complete by the Searsport Planning Board.

After months of meetings and waiting for various permits, the applicant, DCP Midstream of Denver, is a step closer to building the enormous gas tank at Mack Point.

A public hearing on the tank proposal is expected to take place the week after Thanksgiving, and the Planning Board set guidelines asking those who wished to speak to submit an application.

Kristin Collins, lawyer for the town, said no one would be denied a chance to speak, but people who submitted a written application and qualified as "interested parties" could be given more time to speak and question officials from DCP Midstream, a limited liability corporation that takes its name from the gas and oil corporations, Duke Energy and ConocoPhillips.

At the Planning Board's meeting last month, the tension was tangible as several dozen residents listened to debate, their expressions serious.

The board decision didn't sit well with representatives of Thanks But No Tank, a citizens group that opposes the Mack Point project. Steve Hinchman, lawyer for that group as well as Islesboro Island Trust, said the Planning Board "is violating my client's rights ... it's the wrong way to do business. You've never done business like this before."

In September, DCP Midstream won approval for its project from the Maine Fuel Board, after the Searsport Planning Board gave the corporation extra time to obtain the fuel board permit. Thanks But No Tank has appealed another permit, from the state Department of Environmental Protection, claiming the agency didn't follow its own rules in approving the project.

Hinchman told the board that DCP doesn't appear to have clear title to the property where it plans to build a tank. "Under Maine law ... (DCP) must have a contract on the property to consider the application," he said.

"Either you have title, and you hold a right, or you don't. You don't have it (a contract) in writing. So the action you took earlier is illegal," he said, referring to the vote deeming the DCP application complete.

Kim Tucker of Islesboro, a lawyer who worked on British Petroleum's disastrous 2010 oil spill, said she mistrusted DCP Midstream as a corporate entity. "I have intimate knowledge of corporations hiding behind" limited liability corporations that insulate shareholders from risk, she said.

Tucker argued that DCP is not the real applicant in this case, and Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert acknowledged her comment, saying, "The board is well aware of that. It's been on the top of our heads for quite awhile."

Roz Elliot, spokeswoman and a lawyer for DCP, said she is confident her client can meet all requirements and proceed with the project.

Meantime, security analyst Richard Clarke has been working on a risk assessment of the DCP project through his company, Good Harbor, at the behest of tank opponents.

A woman questioned the board about whether DCP officials would have to answer questions. Probert said no, he couldn't force anyone to answer a question. Alternate board member LeeAnn Horowitz said "if you didn't get an answer, I would take that strongly into consideration."

Jeannie Lucas of Searsport told the Planning Board, "I'm deeply tired of the snarky comments about special interests and politics, haves and have-nots, people from here and people from away." She talked about "our common well being," and said "if others are unsafe, there is no way we can be unsafe."

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