Opponents of South Portland liquid petroleum tank project seek council intervention
SOUTH PORTLAND — NGL Supply Terminal Co. is being asked to revise its proposal for a liquid petroleum gas storage facility at Rigby Rail Yard, but some residents believe the company's plan shouldn't have come this far.
They claim the proposal violates existing city ordinances, even if it is cut back, and want the City Council to intervene.
"It's up to the applicant now to decide how they want to proceed," Code Enforcement Director Patricia Doucette said Wednesday.
The initial proposal included the installation of six, 60,000-gallon above-ground storage tanks for liquid petroleum (a total of 360,000 gallons), an 1,800-square-foot operations building, and a paved loop that would allow access for vehicles transporting petroleum by truck, all contained and visually obstructed by an 8-foot-tall fence.
NGL currently distributes gas liquids from a four-acre terminal on Commercial Street in Portland, west of the Casco Bay Bridge. Rigby Yard, at 20 Rigby Road, would more than double the size of the company's operations, to 10 acres of space, leased from Pan Am Railways, with room for possibly 30 rail cars.
In the weeks since the initial proposal, the project has been criticized by some members of the public and a few City Councilors for what they believe is a disregard for the zoning section of the city's Code of Ordinances.
The ordinance prohibits the storage of fuel or illuminating gas "in excess of 10,000 cubic feet." Liquefied petroleum gas is defined in the ordinance as any material that's composed "predominantly" of hydrocarbons, including "propane, propylene, butane and butylene."
The city's allowances for storing and handling petroleum products still prohibit the storage of more than 25,000 gallons in "new above-ground storage tanks."
The City Council and Planning Board have the right to grant a waiver that would allow the storage of more than 25,000 gallons in above-ground tanks, yet even a waiver prohibits the storage of more than 50,000 gallons.
Eben Rose, of Buchanan Street, said the ordinance prohibits NGL's project, since the proposal calls for more than five times the maximum storage capacity.
"(Doucette) should enforce the code if the applicant is breaking the code," Rose said Tuesday afternoon.
Doucette, in a March 11 email to City Manager Jim Gailey, explained why she believes NGL's proposal is permitted.
"I did consider specifically whether the proposed use was prohibited ...," she said. "I determined that the prohibited use listed ... does not apply because the product involved is not fuel gas or illuminating gas."
Because the product would arrive as a liquid and leave as a liquid, it is not a gas, Doucette said. "NGL is not proposing to store gas in excess of 10,000 cubic feet or otherwise. (Liquid propane is not measured in cubic feet; it is measured in gallons.)"
Doucette acknowledged there are portions of NGL's proposal that don't comply with the city ordinances, specifically the stipulation that bars above-ground storage tanks from holding more than 25,000 gallons.
City staff met with NGL's representatives April 2 to "go over outstanding issues and the longstanding issues we've had relative to their project," Doucette said. Thad Ashcraft, NGL vice president of terminal operations, did not return a phone call seeking further information about those discussions, or how the company intends to proceed.
The city gave NGL Supply Terminal Co. a series of options for how to move forward with the project, which included drafting an addendum text amendment to the Code of Ordinances, or requesting a waiver of the 25,000-gallon limit from the City Council.
NGL Supply Terminal Co. also has the option of applying with Pan Am Railways, which owns Rigby, for a federal interstate commerce exemption to the city's zoning requirements.
The pertinent city ordinances date to 1975, and Doucette, who is also the city's deputy director of planning and development, on Wednesday called them "wordy and somewhat convoluted."
"It's poorly written," she said. "I think staff has picked through it and has been able to say this section does not apply to what the applicant wants to do."
But to avoid further controversy, she said, "it would be cleaner if the applicant came forward with language that is readable (so) everybody knows what's going on."
She emphasized that she still believes the project is allowed as proposed, and "an amendment to the language of that zoning ordinance ... to clarify what NGL wants to do ... might be cleaner and better for everyone involved."
"Why did this happen?," he said. "Why weren't they turned away at the door? This is actively neglecting (the city's) code."
Councilor Brad Fox agreed with Rose.
In an email Tuesday to Gailey and Mayor Linda Cohen, he said he "would like the council to have a conversation on the way that staff interpreted and applied the city's zoning ordinance to an industrial proposal that is prohibited by our zoning ordinance."
After reading the ordinance sections, he continued, "I agreed with those residents that the portions of the code that prohibit tanks containing certain substances had been misinterpreted by city staff, based on the science involved. I am requesting full disclosure of the facts on staff's interpretations of the ordinance."
Doucette said the city could "hire someone to obtain expert information about the product that's being moved through the tanks. We have told (NGL) that we expect some expert information from them. ... We've told them we aren't taking the application any further until we get more clarification."