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Terrorism Expert Warns Against Searsport Fuel Storage Tank
01/14/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

A former top White House terrorism adviser said Searsport officials should deny a permit to build a 23-million gallon, liquefied petroleum gas tank at Mack Point. Denver-based DCP Midstream has already secured permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with the proposed project.

But a new report by Good Harbor, the risk assessment firm run by Richard Clark, said the company hasn't adequately addressed the risks posed by a possible explosion, the limited emergency response capability in the region and the lack of suitable water depth in the area around Mack Point.

Safety concerns and worry about the project's overall effect on the Penobscot Bay region led the Isleboro Island Trust to commission the report last summer. Richard Clark, it's author, is best known for his former job tracking terrorism threats under Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He tried, unsuccessfully in his view, to warn officials in the U.S. government of the likelihood of an impending, mass casualty attack by Al-Qaeda in the months before 9/11. Steve Miller, who heads the Isleboro Island Trust, said Clark's extensive experience in threat assessment brings a level of analysis to the debate over the Searsport tank that's been missing so far.

"They hired an independent analyst to take a look at what would happen if a blast occurred," said Miller. "And it's very clear the lethal and incredibly damaging effects of a blast would fall well outside the boundaries of the property, into other properties, into Route 1 and so forth."

Clark did not respond to a call for comment on his findings by airtime. But Miller said the Good Harbor report raises other serious concerns. If the project is approved, DCP Midstream said so-called deep draft vessels would transport millions of gallons of propane gas to Mack Point. But the study said these massive cargo ships wouldn't be able to safely make it across the channel leading into the terminal because the water isn't deep enough. Miller said the report also questions how things would work once the ships tie up.

"These tankers need to have at least one foot, under-keel clearance at the dock, at all times," Miller said.

DCP Midstream said it will take anywhere from 24 to 36 hours to offload the fuel. Miller said that means the ships would be docked for at least on full tide cycle.

"At low tide, these vessels draw in the neighborhood of 39 to 40 feet of water and there's only 34 feet there," said Miller.

In an e-mail, Roz Elliot, DCP Midstream's spokesperson, said the company was still reading the 138-page report and would wait to comment on it until Wednesday evening, when public hearings before the Searsport Planning Board resume. The Denver-based energy firm needs the board's approval to move ahead with the project. DCP has already secured permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, where Samantha Warren is spokeswoman.

"Given that this tank would be erected in an area where there's already extensive commercial and industrial activity, including an existing tank farm, we determined that the projects impacts were appropriate, acceptable and in keeping with the state standard," Warren said.

The Good Harbor report will not make the department reconsider its decision to issue DCP Midstream a permit more than a year ago, according to Warren.

"We stand behind it today, as does the Superior Court, which has recently upheld the permit," she said.

Thanks But No Tank, the main group opposing the project, has now appealed this decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The Good Harbor report also questions whether existing emergency and security agencies in the Penobscot Bay region have the manpower and coordination to respond in the event of a catastrophic accident like a spill or explosion. Steve Hinchman, the lawyer for Thanks But No Tank, said other group or agency, with the exception of the U.S. Coast Guard, has studied the project in as much depth as Good Harbor.

"We certainly hope that the Searsport Planning Board will take a careful look at this report, and the findings in this report, and that they will view it with an open eye," Hinchman said.

On Wednesday night, board members will get to hear directly from its author, when Richard Clark testifies before them in person.

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