SEARSPORT — A member of the town's planning board said Tuesday afternoon that he was surprised to learn that the energy company that has been proposing to build a controversial 22-million-gallon liquid propane storage tank in Searsport is withdrawing its application.
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In this Friday, March 9, 2012 photo, a sign in opposition to a proposed 23-million gallon propane tank is seen in the front yard of a home in Searsport, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
A spokeswoman for Denver-based DCP Midstream Partners told the Portland Press Herald that preliminary votes last week by the Searsport Planning Board indicate that the town ultimately will reject a final permit needed to build the $40 million terminal.
“We just don’t think that it’s necessary to carry forward the deliberations with the planning board, based on where they’re at,” said Roz Elliott. “We really appreciate the opportunity to have tried.”
DCP has been working for years to line up the needed approvals for the project. It won permits from state and federal regulators, but needed a local approval from the planning board. The body has been conducting deliberations, and in an initial vote last week, decided 5-0 that the project was not permitted in the zone in which it was proposed.
Mark Bradstreet, a planning board member, noted that his group still had six more days set aside for deliberations, and hadn't started voting yet on other aspects of the application. But Bradstreet acknowledged that the board's decision that the project's industrial use was encroaching on a commercial zone and was too close to abutters sent a signal to DCP.
"An applicant can look ahead and decide it has lost too many battles to win the war," he said.
The company also was facing the prospect of a protracted legal challenge from opponents, who were set to challenge an earlier permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Among the opponents were some residents of Islesboro, who had safety concerns about propane tankers passing the islands on the route to Mack Point in Penobscot Bay. Steve Miller, executive director of the Islesboro Islands Trust, said he thought the company would continue ahead, and perhaps pursue appeals, if turned down for a permit. He speculated that the company recognized that the planned import terminal was no longer financially viable, and was using the planning board's actions as a reason to pull out.
"I couldn't be happier," Miller said. "This is one of the best pieces of news I've ever received."
DCP's Elliott said the planning board vote was “disappointing and surprising.” She thanked local residents and companies that had supported the project.
DCP first proposed the terminal as a way to bring imported propane to Maine and decrease the state’s dependence on oil. Since then, market conditions have flipped. The abundance of cheap natural gas in the region has import terminals on the East Coast converting to export propane.
DCP owns a rail terminal in Auburn where it transports propane, but Elliott said the company’s experience in Searsport means it won’t be making further investments in the state.