SOUTH PORTLAND — The Planning Board voted 6-1 Tuesday night against recommending that the City Council approve a six-month moratorium on liquefied petroleum gas storage and distribution facilities.

The board went against the wishes of a majority of residents who spoke in favor of the moratorium – many of them citing concerns about a potential catastrophic explosion – during a public hearing at the South Portland Community Center.

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

Opponents of NGL’s proposal are seeking a moratorium because they want 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.

Board member Linda Boudreau led the opposition to a moratorium, saying that she believes the city has an obligation to let the NGL proposal go through the board’s usual review process. Other members said it would be wrong to change city ordinances after a project has been proposed and expressed confidence in the Fire Department’s ability to ensure the project is safe.

“I can’t live in that kind of world with that kind of fear,” said Boudreau, who voted against recommending a moratorium with members William Laidley, Taylor Neff, Fred Hagan, Isaac Misiuk and Kevin Carr.

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The sole member to vote in favor of a moratorium was Kathleen Phillips, who gave credence to residents’ concerns and said, “I have no objection to giving it more time so we can get things right.”

Jon Perry, whose home on Union Street overlooks Rigby Yard, was one of about a dozen residents who spoke in favor of the moratorium.

Perry said he supports the NGL proposal because it’s good for the economy, but he believes the city should take the time to make sure its ordinances ensure public safety.

“More use of (Rigby Yard) is good,” Perry said. “But I do think safety is important. I’d rather take the time to do it right.”

Other moratorium supporters expressed greater concern about the NGL proposal, including Sandra Warren, who said she would sell her house on Skillings Street, near Rigby Yard, if the depot were built.

“We’re not going to live in a property that’s going to be devalued,” Warren said.

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Russ Lunt was one of two resident who spoke against the moratorium, saying that blocking the NGL proposal could compromise the propane supply in Greater Portland.

Lunt also noted that Pan Am Railways could build a propane depot at Rigby Yard under federal laws that allow railroads to ignore municipal ordinances.

The City Council voted 4-3 in December to send the proposed moratorium to the Planning Board for a review and recommendation. The moratorium proposal must return to the council for final consideration.

However, for a six-month moratorium to be enacted, five of the seven city councilors would have to vote in support. That won’t happen without a reversal by at least one of three councilors who voted against the measure in December, and councilors have predicted that it likely won’t happen.

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.

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

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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. Fox and Councilor Eben 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.

On Monday, an NGL representative sent a letter to the city saying the company intends to submit modified plans this week that would address the compliance issue and go forward with a “possible” public hearing on its proposal on Feb. 9.

Following Tuesday’s vote, NGL issued a statement saying the company remains “committed to operating a state-of-the-art facility in South Portland that keeps over 50,000 homes, schools and businesses warm during winter and operating efficiently all year.”


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