South Portland weighs moratorium on propane storage plan

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Concerned neighbors who live near Rigby Yard, where a $3 million liquid petroleum gas storage facility is proposed, urged city councilors Wednesday to halt the project by enacting a six-month moratorium on the planning process.

A second workshop to continue the discussion was set for Monday, Nov. 9.

More than one councilor said the situation reminded them of the moratorium enacted by the City Council in December 2013, to prevent unrefined tar sands oil from being piped through South Portland.

It culminated in the Clear Skies Ordinance, approved last June. In February, Portland Pipeline Corp. sued the city in U.S. District Court, claiming the Clear Skies Ordinance violates state and federal statutes.

The moratorium proposed at the Oct. 14 workshop would halt NGL Supply Terminal Co.’s proposal to store 24,000 gallons of LP gas, commonly known as propane or butane, and load and transport thousands of gallons more each day by truck and rail car.

In a written statement provided Wednesday night, Kevin Fitzgerald, regional operations manager for NGL Energy Partners, said the company is “committed to working cooperatively with South Portland and to operating a smaller, more efficient facility that complies with all existing city ordinances and fire safety codes.”

Rigby Rail Yard is off Rigby Road, sandwiched between Route 1 and Rumery Street and several hundred residential properties. Nearly 250 people live within 500 feet of the proposed facility site, which is near the former railroad turntable, according to Community Planner Steve Puleo.

NGL is proposing that a single 24,000-gallon above-ground storage tank be installed to transfer liquid propane into and from trucks and 30,000-gallon rail cars.

The Fire Department is determining if it can accommodate a project of this size by adding more safety measures, Fire Chief Kevin Guimond told the council at the workshop.

Some of those measures could include the installation of berms that would “deflect any potential blasts,” according to a memo released by City Manager Jim Gailey.

Other possible measures include adding a second emergency access route to the yard, and requiring propane companies − including NGL Supply Terminal Co. − to inject an odor into their product so leaks are easier to detect.

If a tank did catch fire, with no fire suppresant and no “infrastructure around to mitigate any incident,” Gailey said the explosion radius of a 24,000-gallon liquid propane tank would be about 485 yards. An event along those lines is very unlikely with the proposed facility, he said, because efforts will be taken to thwart the risk of explosion.

“If there is a fire, tanks don’t just go boom, that tank needs to start boiling,” Gailey said in his office last Friday. A built-in safety infrastructure, including a valve shut-off and system that douses the tank with cold water, could theoretically prevent such situations, he said.

Despite the safety measures that would be put into place to mitigate a catastrophic event, Gailey told the council he doesn’t see “a lot of benefits to this community (with the project). I don’t think the tax revenue outweighs the potential impact.”

For some residents, too, the possibility of an emergency is too risky.

“We don’t want to be adjacent to millions of gallons of liquid propane gas, whether it’s on rail cars, (trucks) in storage or somewhere in between,” Devin Deane of Thirlmere Avenue said.

“The risks associated with loading and unloading (liquid petroleum) are not hypothetical risks,” Deane’s wife, Elise Baldacci, added. A moratorium, she said, would “allow the city to look thoughtfully through the code” and make the necessary changes.

“We don’t want more propane in our neighborhood. Our neighbors don’t want more propane in our neighborhood,” Baldacci said. “We’re motivated by what the future of Main Street could be. (This) would be a huge step in the wrong direction for our neighborhood.”

Other residents agreed, alluding to the fact that NGL’s proposed facility would make the area more industrial and a less desirable place to live.

“We’ve spent a tremendous amount of money to develop Thornton Heights, (and) it would completely undermine that plan,” said Joyce Mendoza, who also lives on Thirlmere Avenue.

Deane on Wednesday also suggested the proposal is incompatible with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, Chapter 6 of which states that the city should “continue to reserve the existing industrially-zoned areas,” including Rigby Yard.

But the plan also says that “on the other hand, the city’s development standards should assure that these uses are ‘good neighbors,’ and do not create undesirable impacts on adjacent uses or the larger community.

“South Portland’s established residential neighborhoods are its soul and a major reason people choose to live in the city. Assuring that these neighborhoods remain desirable places to live is a fundamental objective of this Plan.”

Councilor Brad Fox, who was been an opponent of the project from the beginning, cited his duty to protect the “health, welfare and safety of the community” as his foremost goal as a councilor.

Fox said the city and Fire Department cannot guarantee there won’t be a catastrophic explosion. “Accidents happen no matter how safe we think things are,” he said.
“Putting a huge quantity of propane next to our residential communities is the most irresponsible idea I have heard since being on the council,” Fox, who supports a moratorium, said Wednesday night. “We have conducted research these past months that prove the high risk of terrible tank accidents with devastating consequences.”
Most councilors agreed a moratorium would allow the city to strengthen fire codes and other safety measures, examine the risks involved, and gauge community input.
Councilors Melissa Linscott and Maxine Beecher said they didn’t know if a moratorium is entirely necessary. Councilor Claude Morgan was the only councilor openly opposed.
Morgan said the reasons for creating a moratorium are “transparent,” and ultimately those who want it are “hoping that you can kill this project,” he said.
“In terms of liability, let’s just say we exercise a given right and say that this company cannot do that,” Morgan said. “Are we looking at a lawsuit? I think we are, and I think we are incredibly vulnerable as a result of this abuse of process.”
Former Councilor Michael Pock also spoke in opposition to the moratorium. “They’re trying to bring this scare tactic back here, again,” Pock said. “You people are afraid of your own shadows.”

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

A line of 30,000-gallon liquid petroleum gas tank cars sit idle on a portion of railroad track at Rigby Yard in South Portland on Monday, Oct. 12. Residents on Wednesday requested the city enact a moratorium to temporarily halt NGL Supply Terminal Co.’s proposal for an above-ground storage facility at the rail yard.

Numbers on the map show the distances to nearby homes from the site at Rigby Yard in South Portland where NGL Supply Terminal Co. is proposing to build a liquid propane storge facility.

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.