2015-06-12 / Front Page

Consultant: Proposed LP gas terminal not allowed

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORLAND — A consultant hired by South Portland to weigh in on a proposed propane storage yard has issued his ruling, saying the project is not allowed under current city code.

In February, Oklahoma-based NGL Supply Terminal Co. approached South Portland with plans to lease nearly 10 acres from Pan Am Railways at Rigby Yard. The proposal called for six above ground tanks, designed to store liquid petroleum gas, more commonly known as propane, for distribution across the region. Each tank would have held more than 60,000 gallons — or 8,000 cubic feet — of propane, for a total of 360,000 gallons — or 48,125 cubic feet of storage.

However, soon after NGL’s presentation to the planning board, Buchannan Street resident Eben Rose stepped forward to point out how the project seemed to conflict with city code. For one thing, he said, that amount of proposed storage is 38,125 cubic feet over the maximum allowed by city zoning. Moreover, with 87 fuel storage tanks, South Portland in the 1990s 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 these limits, Code Enforcement Officer Pat Doucette defended the development proposal, saying it passed muster according to her interpretation. Because propane is largely shipped and stored as a liquid, limits on gas to not apply, she wrote in an internal memo.

The resulting controversy prompted the city to hire Tom Schwartz of Portland engineering firm Woodard Curran to provide a third party analysis.

In a memo submitted to the city June 4, and distributed to the press by City Manager Jim Gailey the following evening, Friday, June 5, Schwartz did not back Rose’s assessment that liquid propane counts as a gas. However, he did say NGL’s tanks, as proposed, would always have some gas in them.

“The containers will never be completely full with liquid because, at a minimum, even when a tank is fully loaded, there is always some head-space in the tank which is needed to dispense the pressurized liquid propane from a container,” he wrote. “From a technical perspective, any space in the tank that is not filled with liquid propane is filled with propane gas. Consequently, as liquid propane is dispensed from a container, or pressure vessel, into a cargo truck, the percentage of liquid volume in the container reduces while the percentage of gas volume in the tank increases.”

Schwartz added that, under the current proposal, the NGL facility would almost always contain more than 10,000 cubic feet of gas.

“To ensure less than 10,000 cubic feet of propane gas in these six tanks would require each tank be kept at no less than 79 percent full as liquid volume at all times. This would appear to defeat the purpose of the proposed storage system,” he wrote.

Schwartz also noted that exception in South Portland ordinances for filling pressurized liquid propane “into cylinders” does not apply because Department of Transportation rules exclude rail cars and cargo tanks from the definition of “cylinders,” trumping the local rules.

In his June 5 release, Gailey wrote that NGL now has two options to proceed with its project. It can appeal Doucette’s decision, which now falls in line with Schwartz’ or, it can “apply for a zoning text change, proposing to change the current ordinance language.”

In a statement issued June 8, NGL’s regional operations manager, Kevin Fitzgerald, is weighing those options.

“NGL has worked with federal, state and local officials to carefully select the Rigby Yard to relocate its liquid propane terminal,” he said, referring to the company’s current storage yard in Portand.

NGL currently stores and distributes LP gas from a 4-acre site on Commercial Street in Portland. That facility holds 280,000 gallons of gas preparatory to distribution across Maine and New England. However, NGL will soon lose that location because the property owner, Unitil, has signed on to sell the site to the state. The Maine Department of Transportation plans to use the property to expand the International Marine Terminal, which is owned by Portland and managed by Maine Port Authority.

“The (proposed) $3 million, state of the art facility is designed to safely meet the high demand for cleanburning propane at over 50,000 homes and businesses throughout the greater Portland region,” Fitzgerald wrote. “We look forward to reviewing the Woodard and Curran report and working with the city of South Portland to evaluate all potential options, including ordinance language revisions or design and location alternatives.”

Meanwhile, in a June 7 email, City Councilor Brad Fox cheered the current impasse, crediting Rose as a “local hero.”

“Eben Rose, in a real-life David vs. Goliath story, takes on the South Portland city bureaucracy and changes the way the city does business,” he wrote. “This kind of thing rarely happens. It’s like a Triple Crown win.

“It’s amazing to many of us SoPo residents that Eben almost singlehandedly has forced the correction of the misreading of an ordinance by the city CEO, which will now prevent NGL from building an LPG facility at the Rigby Yard,” Fox wrote. “He should be getting an award for distinguished citizenship. If you check it out, I’ll bet this has never happened in city history.

“And if you want to say something nice about the city staff, they actually did hire a consultant to set things straight,” Fox wrote. “Of course, there was the pressure applied to get them to do it, and time and money wasted getting things right.”

Asked for a comment, Rose was somewhat less effusive over his efforts.

“South Portland has a really good set of ordinances that act to ensure the health, safety, comfort, convenience and general welfare of the city’s inhabitants,” he said. “We all benefit from enforcement that acts with integrity on our behalf and under these overarching directives.”

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