South Portland gets revised proposal for propane storage

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SOUTH PORTLAND — NGL Supply Terminal Co. is moving forward with its plan to move from Commercial Street in Portland to Rigby Rail Yard. 

The propane distribution company submitted a revised site plan application for 20 Rigby Yard to the Planning and Development Department on Monday, Sept. 21.

The application outlines plans to construct a liquid petroleum gas distribution facility that will use an above-ground storage system “for the transfer of propane fuel from (rail) tanker cars to distribution vehicles,” according to the application. 

NGL Supply Terminal Co., a subsidiary of the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based NGL Energy Partners LP, now operates just west of the Casco Bay Bridge in Portland. The lease on that property expires this year, City Manager Jim Gailey said. 

Kevin Fitzgerald, regional operations manager of NGL Energy Partners, said in a statement Thursday morning that the company has “listened carefully to residents and officials in South Portland and have submitted a revised proposal that we believe conforms to all existing city ordinances.”

The proposed $3 million facility is “designed to safely meet the high demand for clean-burning propane at over 50,000 homes and businesses throughout the greater Portland region,” Fitzgerald said. “Our relocation is motivated by and in direct support of the state’s redevelopment of the Portland waterfront and we’ve worked closely with the federal, state and local officials to carefully select the Rigby Yard location.”

Volume at the Rigby Yard facility will be less than in Portland. “These changes reflect our commitment to work cooperatively with South Portland and to operate a facility that we believe complies with all existing ordinances,” Fitzgerald said.

NGL’s plan for Rigby includes a single, above-ground storage tank that will store about 24,000 gallons of liquid petroleum, a significant reduction from the original proposal last spring to install six 60,000-gallon above-ground storage containers. The storage tank would be built just below what previously operated as the rail yard turntable. 

This application comes about a month after NGL submitted a different application to construct one 24,000-gallon vessel, and a city waiver for a second vessel of the same size, claiming that the second vessel would qualify as an accessory use.

Code Enforcement Officer Pat Doucette, in a response letter dated Sept. 11, said that while it would “be possible for NGL to seek site plan review and approval to install one above-ground storage vessel,” a waiver for a second vessel would not be allowed under city code, due to the principal use of the second vessel and the fact that adding a second vessel would effectively exceed the city’s allowed threshold of 10,000 cubic feet of gas. 

Since NGL began discussing the project with the city in late February, it has attracted criticism from residents, many of whom believe that the project will present a threat to community safety.

This debate was clouded by Doucette’s interpretation of the city’s zoning code that the facility would be allowed, which was later disproved by third-party consultants from Woodard and Curran

All components of the facility, from the first proposal in late February to the most recent, are virtually the same, except the reduced number of storage vessels, according to Steve Puleo, the city’s community planner.

NGL intends to lease approximately 10 acres from Pan Am Railways, which owns the property. Land acquisition and construction is estimated to cost between about $3 million, according to the application. NGL wants to begin construction as soon as possible, if approved by the Planning Board, with completion by May 2016.

NGL’s proposed operation would be within approximately 500 feet of about 245 residents (about 65 properties), according to Puleo.

One of those properties, on Thirlmere Avenue, is occupied by Joyce Mendoza, who said more than 20 of her neighbors are strongly opposed to the project and hope it will not be approved.

“We’re concerned about the whole issue of explosions in the city and how to minimize the risk if that ever happens,” she said. 

The “most egregious” part of the proposal is that the project is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, which heightens the consequences if something catastrophic happens, Mendoza said. 

“Who the heck would come in here if they knew they were sitting on something that would be the equivalent of Nagasaki?” she said. “Everybody ought to be concerned about this.”

What’s most important, Mendoza said, is that “the city hears (our) concerns and does something about it. I believe their heart is in the right place.”

Puleo on Wednesday said the city is “trying to do this in a way that’s safe for the community.”

But an additional wrinkle is the option for NGL to seek federal preemption through Pan Am, Gailey said Monday. 

“We’re also working (on) seeing what type of language we can possibly insert into our fire code that may protect the city if NGL and Pan Am want to look at some type of federal preemption,” he told the City Council on Sept. 14.

If Doucette determines the new application aligns with city code, the Planning Board may get the application in November.

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

NGL Supply Terminal Co. submitted a revised site plan application to South Portland on Sept. 21 for a liquid propane storage facility at Rigby Rail Yard that would include one above-ground 24,000-gallon storage tank.

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.