SOUTH PORTLAND — City officials are expected to develop a fire code amendment that could block future construction of a liquefied petroleum gas depot at Rigby Yard.

After two hours of tense discussion Monday, the City Council directed City Manager Jim Gailey to have municipal staff members review and polish a fire code amendment that was drafted by citizens and proposed by Councilor Brad Fox.

The action comes one year after NGL Terminal Supply Co. submitted a controversial proposal – which was rejected last week – to build a propane depot at the rail yard off Route 1, between the Cash Corner and Thornton Heights neighborhoods.

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.

Councilors Fox and Eben Rose called for urgent action, with Fox saying he feared that Pan Am Railways could develop a propane depot at Rigby Yard because federal transportation laws allow railroads to ignore local ordinances.

Rose acknowledged that the proposed fire code amendment could be challenged and defeated before the federal Surface Transportation Board, but he stressed that the city’s concern for public safety could satisfy the board.


“I think we should try,” Rose said. “I think we have a really good case.”

Other councilors pushed for a more measured approach and said they were confident that city staff could produce an improved amendment with guidance from consultants and attorneys.

“We need to put our trust in our staff,” said Councilor Patti Smith. “I think they understand what’s going on in our community.”

Mayor Tom Blake said city staff members are expected to develop a workable fire code amendment for the council to consider as soon as possible. Fox and Rose hoped for a first reading as early as Jan. 20, but other councilors suggested Feb. 1 was a more likely date.

Last week, the city’s code enforcement director ruled that NGL’s proposal to build a propane depot at Rigby Yard didn’t comply with existing zoning ordinances. The trackside facility would contain as much as 504,000 gallons of propane, more than six times the fuel storage limit of 10,000 cubic feet or 74,805 gallons of liquid propane.

NGL said it would challenge the ruling before the city’s Board of Appeals.

The Planning Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing Tuesday on a proposed six-month moratorium on the development of propane facilities. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the South Portland Community Center.


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