SOUTH PORTLAND — The first reading of a moratorium that could temporarily halt an application for a liquefied petroleum gas storage project at Rigby Yard was approved Monday by city councilors.
The proposal, which passed 4-3, will be sent to the Planning Board for review before facing final approval by the council, where it will require a super majority of five affirmative votes.
Mayor Tom Blake and Councilors Eben Rose, Brad Fox, and Patti Smith voted in favor of the six-month moratorium Monday. Councilors Claude Morgan, Linda Cohen and Maxine Beecher were opposed.
If the Planning Board ratifies the proposal and returns it to the council, one of the opponents would have to change their vote for the measure to take effect.
It was the second time this month the council voted on the moratorium. On Dec. 9 it voted 4-3 on Fox’s motion, seconded by Rose, to indefinitely postpone the proposal. That would have prevented the council from revisiting the matter for a year.
But Rose moved for reconsideration Monday, and he and Fox apologized for their Dec. 9 votes: Fox for “mistaking the wording of my proposal,” and Rose for a health “condition” that he said left him with a hearing problem and confused about the motion on the table.
The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, on Monday joined the South Portland/Cape Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce in urging the city not to seek a moratorium or to alter the existing fire code that would ostensibly block NGL Supply Terminal Co.’s application.
“The Board of Directors of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce agrees with the South Portland/Cape Elizabeth Community Chamber of Commerce Board, and shares their concern over the treatment that NGL has received in South Portland to date,” the statement said.
It said a moratorium and proposed amendments to the fire code, “represent delaying tactics despite clear testimony from the city’s respected former fire chief that such actions are unnecessary to protect the health and safety of local residents.”
Failure to allow for a normal “permitting process in a predictable, fair way,” according to the statement, “sends a chilling message to any legitimate business interested in operation within or relocating to South Portland.”
South Portland resident Jeff Selser, of Summit Street, agreed Monday, and highlighted the necessity of adhering to the “rule of law.”
“We have to treat everybody equally and fairly, and that applies to things that maybe individually we don’t like,” Selser said.
“Just because you, as a councilor, don’t like something … that’s irrelevant to applying the rule of law,” he said. “If you don’t like the petroleum industry, that’s irrelevant to your decisions about what is or is not permissible in the city.”
NGL submitted its application in February, initially proposing six 60,000-gallon above-ground storage tanks at the north end of Rigby Yard, between Route 1 and Rumery Street.
The $3 million project proposal has since been revised to include one 24,000 above-ground storage tank and space for 16 rail cars, each with a capacity of 30,000 gallons.
Some abutters say the scope of the project presents a clear and present danger and increases the potential for a catastrophe.
Some councilors have also come under fire recently for the potential violation of Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, specifically rules that prohibit council deliberation outside of the public eye.
Councilor Brad Fox, through the use of a private email account, has engaged in at least 125 email exchanges about to the application.
Earlier this month, NGL attorneys filed a Freedom of Access Act request for all recorded correspondence the city or councilors possess. Following the request, NGL cited an increasing concern that Fox and possibly other councilors are “actively engaged in subverting an open and transparent Planning Board review process before that process has even begun.”
In a statement issued after Monday’s meeting, Kevin Fitzgerald, regional operations manager for NGL Energy Partners, said “this decision sends an alarming message to any business interested in establishing itself in South Portland. In rejecting the guidance of their own veteran fire chief, the councilors confirmed that they are willing to preempt and delay the city’s own processes for purely political purposes.”
Mayor Tom Blake, siding with residents who want a moratorium, said the proposed project “scares me” and that the city “erred” in its initial interpretation of the fire code.
“The potential dangers are unbelievable … the potential for damage, it’s massive,” Blake said before comparing the size of NGL’s facility in Portland with the proposal in South Portland.
“This is not a replica of what’s across the bridge by any means,” he said. “This is a new, massive project that’s really untried in America.”
The size of the proposed facility in South Portland – 24,000 gallons of fixed, above-ground storage – is actually smaller than the existing Portland facility, which has fixed, above-ground capacity of 210,000 gallons.
“If we say this is allowed in our neighborhood, we can find three or four more sites because now we’ve sent the message to our world that this sort of activity is OK in our residential neighborhoods. It’s protecting all of our people and all of our neighborhoods,” Blake continued.
“If we allow this continue, what else is going to go on at Rigby Yard? This is opening the flood gates to allow a lot of actions in this zone that I think are dangerous to our community. I’m completely convinced, like Mr. Rose, this isn’t currently allowed.”
Blake said a moratorium won’t do any harm.
“Anyone who wants to do business in South Portland, who wants to do good business with South Portland, is going to wait a few months to make sure we get it right,” he said.
South Portland city councilors may still enact a moratorium on NGL Supply Terminal Co.’s application to construct a liquified petroleum gas facility at the northern end of Rigby Yard. The proposal would include 16 30,000-gallon rail cars like these, photographed in October at Rigby.