2015-05-15 / Community

NGL issue takes another turn

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

In light of a recent controversy over a proposal for the LP gas storage complex at Rigby Yard, others point to these three LP tanks, measuring 30,000 gallons each at 2092 Broadway. (Courtesy photo) In light of a recent controversy over a proposal for the LP gas storage complex at Rigby Yard, others point to these three LP tanks, measuring 30,000 gallons each at 2092 Broadway. (Courtesy photo) SOUTH PORTAND — While the city continues to negotiate with a company hoping to build a propane storage complex at Rigby Yards, a project stalled over claims it conflicts with city code, it’s been revealed that another site already operates outside those same zoning limits.

In February, Oklahoma-based NGL Supply Terminal Co. approached South Portland with plans to lease space from Pan Am Railways on 10 of more than 200 acres at Rigby Yard, located off Route 1, between the Cash Corner and Thornton Heights neighborhoods.

The plan called for six aboveground tanks designed to store liquid propane gas. Each tank would be capable of holding more than 60,000 gallons — or 8,000 cubic feet — of liquid propane, for a total of 360,000 gallons — or 48,125 cubic feet of storage. However, as Buchanan Street resident Eben Rose pointed out, that’s 38,125 cubic feet over the maximum allowed by city zoning. Moreover, with 87 fuel storage tanks in the city, South Portland has previously prohibited installation of new aboveground storage tanks holding more than 25,000 gallons of anything, liquid or gas.

Current zoning rules also prohibit local storage of any fuel or “illuminating gas” in amounts that exceed 10,000 cubic feet.

Rose says he pointed out the conflict between the project and city code, only to hear back two weeks later, following a March 11 email from Code Enforcement Officer Pat Doucette to City Manager Jim Gailey, in which she determined the apparent violation was, in fact, not a violation at all.

“The code officer’s interpretation about a month ago has led to questions being raised and whether the proposed NGL terminal is allowed by Ordinance,” Gailey wrote in an April 28 email to city councilors. “Staff has subsequently received additional information from the applicant that has been applied to the ordinance resulting in another section of the ordinance prohibiting the NGL proposed use.”

However, Broadway resident John Papi says Doucette’s interpretation of the code is nothing new. He knows because it was the same rational used to allow construction of three propane storage tanks located at 2092.

Those 30,000-gallon tanks, built by Broadway Storage more than a decade ago and operated by Royal Oil until it went bankrupt last year, also seem to violate city code limits on new aboveground storage tanks, set in the 1990s following controversy over an Irving Oil tank farm proposal.

“We fought them for a little while and they kept telling me propane it wasn’t a petroleum product, so it’s an allowed use,” Papi said on Wednesday. “I was like, what do you mean, it’s right there in black and white.”

On Sept. 21, 2004, the South Portland Board of Appeals voted 2-2 to grant Papi’s request to overturn planning board approval of the LP tank construction, a motion that failed for lack of a majority, allowing the project to proceed. Today, those tanks are reportedly run by Dodge Oil.

Papi, however, said he has no interest in revisiting the fight, or using his experience to try and turn back the new Rigby Yard proposal.

“They do what they want in this city,” he said. “The code enforcement officer has been there way too long. She interprets the rules and regulations differently than everyone else. The planning director and the city manager, it’s the same thing. If they see something that is not allowed, they just let it slide.

“Really, this city’s about had it,” Papi said.

On Tuesday, Doucette and Planning Director Tex Haeuser, along with Assistant Planner Steve Puleo met with representatives of NGL. Haeuser declined to say who sat on NGL’s side of the table, or how many people represented the firm, although he did allow that the talk took up about an hour’s time.

“Basically, they provided us with some information from their technical people in regards to storage tanks versus pressure vessels,” Haeuser said Tuesday afternoon. “They are basically looking to see if the city will make this distinction in interpreting the ordinance.”

Haeuser said NGL was not given an answer.

“Given everything that’s gone on at this point, we really want to take our time to be very thorough,” he said. “We are not rushing anything. We just thanked them and said we’ll be looking at their concerns and talking with our legal people and our technical people.”

According to Haeuser, NGL indicted it still might return to the planning board with a request to alter city code in its favor. However, to do that, it will need to bring in the property owner, Pan-Am, as a coapplicant, he said.

NGL officials could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Meanwhile, the city has not yet heard back from the outside consultant, Tom Schwartz of Portland engineering firm Woodard Curran, on whether NGL can proceed with Doucette’s application of relevant code.

“Nobody has ever mentioned a timetable for that,” he said.

City Finance Director Greg L’Hereux said in an email Tuesday that a cost for Schwartz’ services has not yet been determined.

And what of the apparent code violation already in place?

City Councilor Brad Fox has raised the alarm over that and, in a series of emails to Mayor Linda Cohen, requested a workshop session to eliminate any ambiguity in the city code by adding scientific definitions for liquid petroleum gas, more commonly known as propane. The 2004 appeals board ruling had noted that lack of such a definition, saying they were forced to fall back on the “plain language” in the ordinance.

“All I can say is that we clearly believed at the time of the planning board approval that the tanks were allowed,” Haeuser said, adding that he was not involved in Papi’s appeal.

Hauser said he has been alerted to the apparent discrepancy of the Broadway tanks, given the more recent controversy, but said he could not comment until reviewing the previous planning board approvals.

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