Forecaster Forum: South Portland propane proposal fails on many levels

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In the on-going saga of NGL Terminal Supply Co.’s search for a site to build a propane distribution facility, innuendos and veiled threats continue to fly.

South Portland’s code enforcement officer determined that NGLs proposal does not comply with South Portland ordinance and notified NGL of this in a letter dated Jan. 8. NGL’s Jan. 11 response expressed its frustration with the length of time taken to process their application and professes its awareness of the ordinance as well as its capability to comply.

Is it unreasonable to question NGL’s understanding of South Portland ordinances when their initial submission proposed six 60,000-gallon above-ground storage tanks, in clear violation of the city’s maximum allowance of 25,000 gallons of above-ground storage?

The fact that South Portland’s code enforcement officer initially misinterpreted the code does not abrogate NGL’s responsibility, and leads one to question NGL’s motivation and intent. It took several months, but code enforcement finally admitted the error and notified NGL.

Now, we have a similar problem with the 10,000-cubic -foot storage limit; NGL’s consultants and engineers want us to believe they understand and will comply with this ordinance. I contend that NGL’s intention is to build the largest storage facility they can, using the minimum amount of safety and security they believe the Planning Department will accept – not a facility that actually complies with the codes.

This is the heart of the matter. We have codes in South Portland that are designed specifically to limit new petroleum/industrial infrastructure. Those of us who lived here in the 1990s remember very well why these ordinances were enacted and why it was important.

The citizens of South Portland recognized that the petroleum industry, which has enjoyed preferential treatment from our city, was an industry in decline and that there were distinct risks in allowing this industry to continue to expand its infrastructure. Such expansion would put our residents’ health and safety at risk, and these risks where not mitigated by any reasonable assurances that the city would be made whole if an accident occurred or when the flow of oil no longer became profitable.

NGL, despite having the professional talent to know better, is taking advantage of the unfamiliarity of our city staff, and putting our residents at risk for the sake of profit. In the same letter in which NGL’s consultant, Stantec, professes awareness of city ordinances, they go on to say that they will comply by simply moving the requisite number of rail cars off the leased premises – about 100 feet. That should make the residents of Pleasantdale and Thorton Heights sleep more soundly.

I understand that NGL wants a conduit to move more propane into Maine and that Maine needs a reliable supply line. Storage capacity makes it more economically attractive to NGL. This proposal does none of these things. Rigby Rail Yard, owned by Pan Am Railways, was a bottleneck last winter because Pan Am is reluctant to invest in heated track switches. Trains could not move north until the switches thawed.

Further, the current proposal, as required by the city, cannot be a storage depot. This is a transloading facility that would use a 24,000-gallon tank as a large conduit between rail cars and tanker trucks. When we have another cold winter, the amount of propane piling up in Rigby will exceed tens of millions of gallons (30 rail cars is roughly 1 million gallons). There are several other sites between South Portland and Waterville for a propane distribution facility that would not only provide better rail reliability, but also allow for greater above-ground storage.

Coverage of this issue has been incomplete at best. Has anyone actually researched propane distribution in Maine and in the Northeast? Has anyone asked why NGL is fixated on South Portland when there are better alternatives? There is much more to this story than what has been reported. There are many resources available to anyone seeking to understand the issue and question the claims of either side.

This proposal represents a unacceptable risk to the health and safety of South Portland residents. It does not satisfactorily address propane supply for Maine. This proposal also does not conform to either the letter or intent of South Portland codes.

South Portland resident Andrew Snyder was an industrial biochemist in the biotech industry for 23 years and for the past 15 years has been a real estate broker selling residential property in greater Portland.