NGL withdraws application for propane storage depot in South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — After more than a year of trying to gain approval for a liquefied petroleum gas storage depot at Rigby Rail Yard, NGL Supply Terminal Co. Thursday announced it will withdraw its application.

“Despite a year-long, good-faith effort by the company to address all legitimate safety concerns and to comply with the city’s existing and prospective regulations, it has become apparent that some in city government are determined to oppose the project by any means possible and under any circumstances,” Kevin Fitzgerald, regional operations manager for NGL Energy Partners, said in a press release.

The announcement came four days before the City Council is slated to hold a first reading of amendments to the city’s fire code — changes that were drafted in response to NGL’s application, as a means to tighten the regulation of commercial propane and prohibit NGL’s proposed use.

NGL submitted its application in January 2015, initially proposing six 60,000-gallon above-ground storage tanks to replace the company’s existing facility on West Commercial Street in Portland. That proposal was reduced to one 24,000-gallon above-ground tank in a revised application submitted to the Planning and Development department last September.

The application process was tumultuous and controversial, with opposition from people who live near the rail yard and others who expressed concerns about the project’s safety and necessity.

Pat Doucette, the city’s code enforcement officer, who first said NGL’s proposed use was allowed under city zoning ordinances, reversed her opinion nearly a year later.

City Councilor Brad Fox was openly criticized late last year for privately attempting to convince fellow councilors to oppose the application, often via his personal email instead of his city-provided account. The council attempted to pass a moratorium that would have effectively stopped NGL’s application process for six months, but it failed to get a majority vote. And both the Portland Regional Chamber and the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce criticized the council for not being fair to NGL in the application process.

Following the company’s announcement Thursday, Chris Hall, chief executive of the Portland Regional Chamber, said the group is “very sad to see the application withdrawn.”

“We were very concerned about the fairness of the process. We can’t help but see this result as throwing that into question,” Hall said. “We want South Portland to prosper, to grow and for the people to have the community they want, but we’re worried when folks can’t complete an application process.”

Hall said he is “concerned about the message” this process will send to other developers and investors about the city’s attitude toward business investment.

“It doesn’t help other investors,” he said. “It discourages them. I hope the City Council can make some affirmative steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again. (The city) needs to renew its commitment to fair process and let (the application) either succeed or fail on its merits.”

But Fox was very happy to hear the news. “To me, it’s an incredible thing,” he said Thursday.

“Obviously this has been a year long struggle for so many people to try to keep this facility from being built next to people’s houses,” Fox said. “We still have that concern and we still need to get the fire code safety ordinance passed Monday night to make sure (Rigby Rail Yard operator Pan Am Railways) doesn’t try to do the same thing.”

Fox said he doesn’t see NGL’s decision as an example of the city unfairly driving businesses away. “We just didn’t feel their location was a wise choice,” he said.

With the South Portland proposal off the table, Fitzgerald said in the NGL press release, “we will increase our supplies at other regional terminals, including a site in Auburn for the short term, while exploring the development of a new facility at an alternate location in Maine.

“We are confident that another Maine community will value the jobs, financial investment, tax revenues and energy security our terminal will provide.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

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A rendering of NGL Supply Terminal Co.’s proposed propane storage facility at Rigby Rail Yard in South Portland. The company withdrew its application on Thursday, March 17.

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.