2015-05-29 / Front Page

Gas proposal in limbo

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTAND — A proposal to build an LP gas storage terminal at Rigby Yard is in limbo while the city awaits feedback from a third-party engineer.

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 above ground 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, that’s 38,125 cubic feet over the maximum allowed by city zoning. Moreover, with 87 fuel storage tanks, South Portland has prohibited installation of new above-ground 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.

Although the planning board advised NGL of the limits, Code Enforcement Officer Pat Doucette defended the development proposal, saying it passed muster according to her interpretation.

“NGL is not proposing to store gas in excess of 10,000 cubic feet or otherwise. Liquid propane is not measured in cubic feet; it is measured in gallons,” said Doucette in an email to City Manager Jim Gailey, adding that NGL propane would arrive and depart South Portland as a liquid. That, she intimated, absolved the company from limits on the storage of gas.

Following an outcry from some members of the public, and even one or two on the city council, Gailey advised the city council via email that a third party would be hired to advise on whether NGL can proceed with Doucette’s application of ordinances relevant to its proposal. According to City Planner Tex Haeuser, the consultant will be Tom Schwartz of Portland engineering firm Woodard Curran.

On May 12, Doucette, Haeuser and Assistant Planner Steve Puleo met with representatives of NGL, who presented a different route.

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

That new line of reasoning also was forwarded to Schwartz, Haeuser said.

On Tuesday, Gailey said an answer from the consultant was still forthcoming.

“We’re waiting for the engineers to respond back to us on their interpretation of Section 14 of the INR (Industrial Non-Residential) zone and the ‘pressure vessels,’ whether that has any legs or not,” he said.

“It’s taking quite a while, isn’t it?” City Councilor Brad Fox wrote in an email Tuesday. “The science teacher who I asked, who has no vested interest in the issue, took two minutes.”

Fox previously cited the unnamed teacher to back the belief that city zoning ordinances, as currently written, would seem to block the LP gas proposal.

“I’m waiting to hear what our consultant reports on LNG before I make any decisions about what to do next,” wrote Fox, who had previously asked Mayor Linda Cohen to schedule a council workshop to give the conflicts a public airing. Fox also has raised the alarm over a set of propone storage tanks at 2092 Broadway, installed in 2004.

Those tanks, built by Broadway Storage and operated by Royal Oil, also seem to violate city code limits on new above-ground storage tanks, set in the 1990s following controversy over an Irving Oil tank farm proposal.

On Sept. 21, 2004, the South Portland Board of Appeals voted 2-2 on an appeal of the LP tank construction permit, in a decision that seemed to hinge on Doucette’s interpretation that liquid petroleum, or propane, “is not a petroleum-based product.”

“The word ‘based’ includes the concept that the product contains petroleum as an element,” the appeal decision reads. “Propane is derived from petroleum but does not contain petroleum.”

Fox has questioned if the tanks at 2092 Broadway should have been allowed, given the current controversy over interpretation of city code as applied to the Rigby Yard proposal.

However, Haeuser says there is one key difference.

The cubic foot limit was adopted in 2007, after approval of the tanks at 2092 Broadway, he said. While Haueser declined to enter into a debate on the definition of LP gas, and the applicability of city code, the storage limits now in place did not exist at the time, he said.

“Certainly, at the time we believed everything was correct and allowed regarding that project,” Haeuser said.

However, a new mystery has emerged related to the newer tank limits.

“I think where the big difference is, that somehow in the rewriting of Chapter 27 a few years ago, there was a sentence added to a section wasn’t previously there. That changes the whole dynamic,” Gailey said Tuesday. “Tex [Haeuser] doesn’t know how that sentence got put in there. He’s done some research to find out how that sentence got put in there.

“But that’s the big difference,” Gailey said. “If you read today’s ordinance, you might say, how did that 2092 (Broadway facility) ever get there? But if you read the ordinance that was in play when that project was approved, you’ve got to look at that, not what we’re applying to the NGL project.”

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