SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council decided Wednesday night against a six-month moratorium on development of propane storage and distribution facilities.

Councilors voted 4-3 in favor of the moratorium, but the measure required a super-majority of five votes to pass.

The decision came one year after NGL Supply Terminal Co. submitted a proposal to build a propane depot at Rigby Yard, off Route 1 near the Cash Corner and Thornton Heights neighborhoods.

Councilor Brad Fox displayed photos and read a harrowing news account of a 2009 propane tank-car explosion at a railroad facility in Italy that injured or killed dozens.

“One tank, one leak, one spark,” Fox said. “I support the moratorium.”

Councilors Eben Rose, Patti Smith and Mayor Tom Blake also voted for the moratorium.

Councilors who opposed the moratorium – Linda Cohen, Maxine Beecher and Claude Morgan – said at this or other meetings that it would be unfair to NGL and unnecessary because the city’s ordinances are sufficient to ensure a comprehensive review of the proposal.

While Beecher called Fox’s presentation a “scare tactic,” Cohen acknowledged the fears of residents who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting.

“I don’t think anyone can minimize anyone’s fear,” Cohen said. “I don’t think this council should jump in the middle of the process.”

Opponents of NGL’s proposal sought a moratorium because they wanted city officials to study the potential public safety impacts of a propane depot and they hope to pass ordinance changes that would block its development near homes and critical infrastructure.

According to a fire safety analysis prepared for NGL, the radius of a vapor cloud explosion at the depot would be 2,112 feet, but the potential for an explosion would be low because of safety features in the facility’s design. The nearest commercial building is 390 feet from the storage facility and the nearest home is 700 feet away.

The City Council voted 4-3 in December to send the proposed moratorium to the Planning Board for a review and recommendation. The measure didn’t need a super-majority to pass a first reading.

The Planning Board voted 6-1 last week against recommending that the City Council approve the moratorium.

NGL is a subsidiary of NGL Energy Partners of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which includes Brunswick-based Downeast Energy. The company must move its propane depot from its current location on Commercial Street in Portland by spring because the state plans to expand the International Marine Terminal.

The City Council has directed city staff members to develop a fire code amendment that could block future construction of a depot for propane, also called liquefied petroleum gas, at Rigby Yard. The amendment would be based on a proposal drafted by citizens and brought forward by Fox.

The citizen-drafted amendment would require propane storage and distribution facilities to be developed at least 1,257 feet from anything considered “critical infrastructure,” including schools, hospitals, medical clinics, public utilities, telecommunications, and government buildings such as the Cash Corner Fire Station near Rigby Yard.

City staffers are expected to develop a workable fire code amendment for the council to consider as soon as possible. Councilors Fox and Rose had hoped for a first reading as early as Jan. 20, but other councilors suggested Feb. 1 was a more likely date.

Two weeks ago, the city’s code enforcement director ruled that NGL’s proposal didn’t comply with existing zoning ordinances. The trackside facility would have contained up to 504,000 gallons of propane, more than six times the fuel storage limit of 10,000 cubic feet, or 74,805 gallons of propane.

NGL has notified the city that it intends to submit a modified plan that would address the compliance issue and go forward with a “possible” public hearing on its proposal Feb. 9.

“Our company has a long history of safe operations around the country and just across the river in Portland,” said Kevin Fitzgerald, NGL’s regional operations manager. “Our project is safe, lawful and will meet all existing city codes.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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