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Propane Tank Proposal Divides Searsport Area Residents
11/27/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

A public hearing continues this evening in Searsport on a proposed liquified propane gas tank at the Mack Point Terminal on Penobscot Bay. The project has strong supporters in the town and beyond, but they were outnumbered at Monday night's initial meeting by a diverse coalition of homeowners, tourism-related businesses, conservation and environmental groups and other citizens that strongly oppose construction of the 14-story-tall tank. This is the first time top officials with DCP Midstream, the Denver-based company pursuing the project, are making their pitch directly to the Searsport Planning Board. As Jay Field reports, the hearings present a culture clash between energy executives and lawyers, their decidedly less button-down opponents - and local government officials stuck in the middle.

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Propane Tank Proposal Divides Searsport Area Resid
Originally Aired: 11/27/2012 5:30 PM
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 Duration:
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Shortly before Monday's hearing, tank opponents began to take up most of the seats inside the cafeteria at Searsport High School. Many belong to Thanks But No Tank, the umbrella group leading opposition to the project. They wear TBNT stickers on their flannel shirts and sweaters. Many have more than a few gray hairs. And few, if any, look like they have much in common with the lawyers and executives, some in suits and ties carrying legal boxes filled with documents.

"The reason for this meeting tonight is the public hearing on the application by DCP Searsport LLC," said Bruce Probert, who heads the five-member Searsport Planning Board. He's running a series of public hearings in Searsport this week.

"I know you'll give consideration to others. If I determine you're out of order, there will be one warning and then I'll ask you to leave the hall."

Searsport is a small town, and Probert and his fellow board members are in a tricky spot. The business owners who've come here tonight - the innkeepers and antique dealers worried the tank will decimate the tourism economy - are their friends and neighbors. The homeowners - concerned about potential damage to real estate prices and the chance of a catastrophic explosion - are friends and neighbors too.

But so are lots of other people, who believe DCP's promise that the project will create real jobs, add to the tax base and deliver a cheap supply of propane to heat their homes. For two years now, the company and opponents of the tank have clashed over the terms of the project.

That emerged Monday night in a battle over who will get to make formal presentations and cross examine witnesses this week.

"David Italiaander, 17 Shoreside Lane. I represent the historic buildings in Searsport and I think my testimony can demonstrate, perhaps, some of the effects that this project might have."

"I'm Steve Miller. I'm the executive director of Islesboro Islands Trust. One of the properties that we own is Turtle Head, just across the upper part of Penobscot Bay from Mack Point."

"What costs will be incurred by our Lincolnville residents and taxpayers in terms of mutual aid for safety and wear and tear on our roads?" asked Lincolville resident Arlene Jurewicz-Leighton, who joined Steve Miller, David Italiannder and many others in asking the board to grant them so-called "interestested party status."

Lawyers for DCP have complained since the summer that the planning board's meetings are too loose and shouldn't allow formal presentations and cross examining by non-Searsport residents. Jamie Kilbreth, one of the company's lawyers, continued to protest last night.

"I think it's pretty clear that our view is this is not a regional issue, it's a Searsport issue. I do think the public comment period is the appropriate time to hear from people from Lincolnville and Islesoro and so on," he said.

Kilbreth cautioned Probert, the board chair, about the possibility of the hearing getting bogged down if he approved every one of these requests. But Probert said he wan't interested in dragging things out.

"I would prefer to air on the side of having more people speak than not," he said. "I've been involved in this now for two years and my wife would like to have her husband back. And I would like to be back. So I'm not looking to drag this out."

Probert ended up brokering a compromise, which let some people consolidate their presentations with that of the Thanks But No Tank, the main opposition group. Tonight DCP will make its formal presentation on the project. Opponents will take the floor Wednesday, followed, finally, by an open mic for the public on Thursday.

As the meeting broke up last night, the attorney for the planning board cautioned members to act as if they were members of a jury and not talk to friends and family about the hearings.



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