SOUTH PORTLAND — City and state officials are scrutinizing a proposal to build a liquid propane gas storage and distribution facility at Rigby Yard, an industrial rail site wedged between two residential neighborhoods.

City officials say the proposal from NGL Supply Terminal Co. would be an improvement over the way liquid propane is handled now at the rail yard, which is off Main Street (Route 1) between the Cash Corner and Thornton Heights neighborhoods. NGL is a subsidiary of Tulsa, Oklahoma-based NGL Energy Partners, parent company of Downeast Energy.

As many as 100 railcars loaded with liquid propane pass through Rigby Yard daily with little local security or oversight, said Fire Chief Kevin Guimond. Some tank cars unload their cargo directly to delivery trucks operated by AmeriGas, another liquid propane retailer. Under federal law, companies aren’t required to register cargo with communities along railways while it’s in transit, city officials said.

With a fixed propane storage facility on the drawing board, city officials have greater control over the way liquid propane would be handled at the site. They’re pushing NGL to refine its proposal to provide increased security and environmental protection for Rigby Yard and its neighbors.

“This is going to be better for the community,” Guimond said. “It’s not a quick yes or no. It’s a very methodical review process and risk assessment.”

RESIDENTS TO BE NOTIFIED

NGL representatives presented their proposal last week during a Planning Board workshop. Planning and fire officials have asked NGL to make a variety of changes that are expected to push the public hearing to April 14 at the earliest. Rail yard neighbors will be notified a week before the hearing.

This would be the third liquid propane storage facility in the city, including an active site on Lincoln Street, near Interstate 295, and an approved but inactive site on outer Broadway, near the Scarborough line, said Tex Haeuser, planning director.

NGL wants to build a storage facility at Rigby Yard because its terminal on Commercial Street in Portland will be squeezed out by the state’s planned expansion of the International Marine Terminal near the Casco Bay Bridge.

The Rigby Yard proposal would increase NGL’s fixed storage capacity by 80,000 gallons – from six tanks that hold a total of 280,000 gallons at its Portland site, to six 60,000-gallon tanks at Rigby Yard, said Steve Puleo, community planner.

Rigby Yard also would allow NGL to bring more railcars into a secure, fenced-in terminal. The 4-acre terminal in Portland has track capacity for eight cars, while the 10-acre terminal at Rigby Yard would have track capacity for 24 to 30 cars, Puleo said.

In recent weeks, because severe snowstorms greatly limited rail travel throughout the region, NGL had as many as 70 tank cars stranded at Rigby Yard because they were unable to reach and unload at the storage and distribution facility on Commercial Street in Portland, Puleo said.

If NGL builds a terminal at Rigby Yard, city officials have asked the company to make arrangements so AmeriGas can use the secure facility to load its trucks, Guimond said.

PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERNS

Rigby Yard currently has 12 fire hydrants, some of which are out of use, Puleo said. City and state fire officials want NGL to install new hydrants and a new water main to serve the 245-acre rail yard, Guimond said. They also want NGL to place the storage tanks farther from any residences and install a complete security system, including sensors and cameras. There is a fire station near Rigby Yard.

City planners expect NGL to improve stormwater management on the site and vehicle access from Rumery Street and Rigby Road. They also want Pan Am Railways, which owns Rigby Yard, to provide an easement along the property so the city may one day build the proposed Cross Town Road from Highland Avenue to Main Street.

NGL didn’t respond Tuesday to a call for comment.

City officials said NGL has been responsive to their requests and they expect the company to meet all regulatory requirements. They noted that NGL representatives have touted a clean safety record and that liquid propane is one of the less concerning substances that travel through the city.

“Propane is not the No. 1 concern on our list,” Guimond said, adding that some chemicals shipped to and stored at the local Fairchild Semiconductor and Texas Instruments plants are more hazardous and therefore closely monitored.

“There are other chemicals passing through the city that we don’t even know about because they don’t have to tell us,” Haeuser said. “(Propane is) not a problem as long as appropriate safety measures are met and maintained.”