SEARSPORT — Tux Turkel’s comprehensive story in the Jan. 7 Portland Press Herald (“Propane imports may help ease regional shortage that is driving up prices”) brought several relevant facts to light regarding this regionally crucial energy source.

First, the state lacks sufficient storage capacity to meet seasonal demand during periods of harsh weather, or to smooth out supply constraints imposed by over-reliance on rail delivery.

Secondly, as the president of the New England Propane Association succinctly stated, “There’s just no other way to bring significant amounts of propane into New England, except by ship.”

Mainers’ relief from this recent shortage was not to come from the ports of Searsport, Portland or Bucksport, but through the arrival of a 570-foot liquefied petroleum gas ship into the port of Providence, R.I. The inability of this state to accommodate such a vessel is a fundamental failure of energy policy, port policy and political will.

SEARS ISLAD IGNORED

Readers are likely familiar with the lengthy effort by DCP Midstream to bring a liquefied petroleum gas storage facility to Mack Point in the port of Searsport.

Among the principal objections raised about the proposed 138-foot tank was that it was too tall, too close to Route 1, too close to an established eatery, too close to residences, too close to hotels and other commercial establishments, too close to an existing oil tank storage facility and that the facility simply wasn’t needed in the region.

What ultimately determined the fate of the proposal was its failure to meet six land use or site plan ordinances pertaining to zoning status, landscape buffers, safety buffers, visual impacts and other adverse impacts. Simply put, there was not enough suitable land available to build such a facility.

It is regrettable that at no point in this multi-year process was serious consideration given to locating this terminal on Sears Island. The Sears Island Planning Initiative Consensus Agreement, a legacy of the Baldacci administration, permanently removed from development more than 600 acres of the island.

The agreement left 334 acres available for marine-dependent development, but only when nearby Mack Point was fully “built out,” meaning that such development could no longer fit there. The total acreage of the proposed DCP facility was only 24 acres, and it still couldn’t fit on Mack Point and satisfy town ordinances.

NO ROOM AT MACK POINT

If the DCP controversy accomplished nothing else, it clearly established that, given the scope of a particular proposal, Mack Point is at or very near its capacity, and that Sears Island needs to be accessible for the purposes for which Maine taxpayers purchased it. While the agreement specifically excluded future development of a liquefied natural gas facility, it made no such exclusions against liquefied petroleum gas.

A Sears Island site for the liquefied petroleum gas facility would have provided more available land, providing the opportunity to construct two or even three smaller, shorter tanks with the same aggregate capacity as the 138-foot “Mega” tank would have had, with a greatly reduced visual impact to Route 1 and the Penobscot Bay vantage point.

A Sears Island site would have placed liquefied petroleum gas storage tanks more than a mile away from the nearest residences, restaurants, hotels or petroleum storage facilities. A Sears Island site would have provided an isolated, secure location.

The existing bulk dock at Mack Point, built with $19 million of taxpayer funds, could still have been used as per the original proposal, but with a pipeline running across Long Cove instead of through an existing tank farm, which was yet another concern of opponents.

A BAD DEAL FOR VOTERS

In fact, a Sears Island site for the liquefied petroleum gas storage facility would have been closer to the dock than the proposed Route 1 location was. No new piers, wharfs, docks or other marine structures would have been needed on Sears Island in order to accommodate this proposal.

Sears Island was purchased by taxpayers over a period of 17 years, at a cost of more than $20 million, for the express purpose of port development. The bond referendums that voters endorsed to pay for this vision made no reference to conservation of the island, either in whole or in part.

The recent DCP debacle in Searsport was a missed opportunity to secure a marine terminal for propane storage in this state. The lack of any serious effort to address the many objections to the proposal by taking advantage of a Sears Island location demonstrates that it is time to question the value and validity of the Sears Island agreement.

— Special to the Telegram