SOUTH PORTLAND — After hours of testimony and deliberation, the City Council on Wednesday night killed a proposal for a controversial six-month moratorium on the development of propane storage and distribution facilities.

The council considered the moratorium amid mounting controversy over a proposal by NGL Terminal Supply Co. to build a liquefied petroleum gas depot at Rigby Yard.

The action came as a surprise after Councilor Brad Fox made a motion to indefinitely postpone consideration of the moratorium. Several councilors noted that such an action would effectively kill the proposal and prevent reconsideration for a year.

The vote was 4-3 to approve the motion to indefinitely postpone, with support from councilors Claude Morgan, Linda Cohen, Maxine Beecher and Eben Rose.

Rose, at his first meeting since being elected, had indicated that he didn’t want to kill the proposal. He said afterward that he still didn’t believe that the motion killed it.

Councilors Patti Smith, Fox and Mayor Tom Blake opposed the motion. Fox said after the meeting that he made the motion to indefinitely postpone because he wanted the council to consider additional information about the proposed moratorium.

Ultimately, however, Fox said he didn’t believe the moratorium would win the five votes needed to pass it following a Planning Board review.

The council was on track Wednesday night to vote 4-3 in favor of sending the proposal to the Planning Board for consideration and a recommendation. Smith said she wanted an independent expert to assess costs and benefits of NGL’s proposal, while Cohen said she didn’t want to interfere with the Planning Board review.

The council’s vote means it can’t take up the same moratorium proposal for the rest of the council year, which runs through November 2016. However, it’s unclear whether another moratorium may be considered under a different chapter of the city’s ordinances, said Sally Daggett, corporation counsel.

NGL’s proposal for a propane depot at Rigby Yard has drawn strong opposition from some residents. The company must leave its existing depot on Commercial Street on Portland’s waterfront by next spring, when the state plans to start expanding the International Marine Terminal.

Priscilla Skerry of Brickhill Avenue was one of 18 residents to speak in favor of the moratorium, calling it a “common sense” move.

“Fire codes must be conscientiously studied to ensure South Portland’s citizens can be protected from any possible catastrophic explosion,” Skerry said. “I can’t see any harm in taking the time to get this one right.”

Michael Pock, a former councilor, was one of five residents and five propane industry representatives who spoke against the moratorium.

Pock urged the council to avoid extending the process of reviewing NGL’s proposal and worsening community conflict.

“We need to mend this town, not rend it,” Pock said.

The council postponed a workshop on proposed amendments to the city’s fire protection and prevention ordinances that were proposed by Councilor Fox. The amendments would require that propane storage and distribution facilities be developed a safe distance from anything considered “critical infrastructure,” including government buildings, schools, hospitals, medical clinics, public utilities and telecommunications. Rigby Yard is near the Cash Corner Fire Station.

Fox was criticized again Wednesday for openly opposing the NGL proposal and sending emails about it to all city councilors from a private gmail.com account. City policy stipulates that councilors are expected to use a municipal email account for all city-related business.

The council held a training session on Maine’s Freedom of Access Act on Nov. 30 that Fox didn’t attend. In an email statement, Fox said he had already attended a similar session and that he would “continue to exercise my free speech right to provide relevant information about this potential catastrophe-in-the-making to others because it’s the right thing to do.”

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

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