SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council revived the prospect of a moratorium on liquefied petroleum gas storage and distribution facilities Monday night, voting 4-3 to send a proposed moratorium to the Planning Board for review.

Once that board has held a public hearing and developed a recommendation, the proposal will come back to the council for a final decision.

For a six-month moratorium to be enacted, five of the seven city councilors would have to vote in support. As several councilors pointed out, that won’t happen without a reversal by at least one of three opponents on the council: Linda Cohen, Maxine Beecher or Claude Morgan.

“We may not have the five votes,” said Mayor Tom Blake, “but someone sitting at this table could change their minds.”

After hours of testimony and deliberation, the council voted Dec. 9 to kill a proposal for a six-month moratorium on the development of propane storage and distribution facilities by voting 4-3 to postpone it indefinitely.

By doing so, it was initially thought that the council had effectively prevented such a measure from being introduced for one year. The vote came after NGL Terminal Supply Co. proposed building a liquefied petroleum gas depot at Rigby Yard – a 245-acre industrial site between the Cash Corner and Thornton Heights neighborhoods.


But some councilors, including Blake, indicated there was confusion about what effect postponing the moratorium would have.

That led Councilor Eben Rose, who voted on the prevailing side Dec. 9, to make a motion Monday to reconsider the moratorium. Blake along with Councilors Patti Smith and Brad Fox joined Rose in supporting the motion. Rose said the city needs to take a closer look at its ordinances and what storage capacities are permitted.

“It’s not about whether we hate or love propane. Even if in the end it doesn’t get five votes, this will give the Planning Board another chance to look at some of these issues,” Rose said.

NGL Terminal Supply Co. needs to move its propane depot from its current location on Commercial Street in Portland by next spring because the state wants to expand the International Marine Terminal. NGL has downsized its proposal, calling now for one 24,000-gallon storage tank and track with enough queuing space for 24 rail tank cars.

Residents are concerned that having that much gas near their homes could threaten their lives in the event of an accidental fire or explosion.

Company officials say there is no need for safety concerns because the Rigby Yard facility would incorporate state-of-the-art firefighting and safety technology. There have been no incidents at the Portland storage facility in 60 years.


None of those councilors opposed to a moratorium spoke out Monday night, but several residents did address the issue, with the majority urging councilors to move ahead with a moratorium. If enacted, it would be retroactive to Oct. 14.

“What is the problem with slowing down, pausing and putting the brakes on this thing?” said Dan Wood, a city resident.

Others took a more moderate view.

Jeff Selser, a lawyer and South Portland resident, said it would be unfair for the City Council to change the rules on NGL the midle of the game. He urged councilors to treat NGL fairly, regardless of their views on the safety of liquefied gas.

“The safety risk has to be reasonably foreseeable,” Selser said. “You are more likely to be killed while walking on the street by an airplane that falls out of the sky. A moratorium is not to be used just because you don’t like something.”

NGL’s parent company issued a statement Monday night sharply criticizing the council’s action.


“This decision sends an alarming message to any business interested in establishing itself in South Portland. In rejecting the guidance of their own veteran fire chief, the councilors confirmed that they are willing to pre-empt and delay the city’s own processes for purely political purposes,” said Kevin Fitzgerald, regional operations manager for NGL Energy Partners.

It was Blake, the city’s new mayor, who spoke at length in support of a moratorium. He admitted publicly that the project scares him.

“It’s not a replica of what exists across the bridge (in Portland),” he said. “It’s a massive project.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.