2015-06-26 / Community

LP gas project leads to new city policy

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The recent confusion and resulting controversy over a propane storage project in South Portland has resulted in a change in the way the city conducts business.

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 aboveground 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.5 Points Mentioned

However, soon after NGL’s presentation to the planning board, Buchanan Street resident Eben Rose stepped forward to point out how the project seemed to conflict with city code. One zoning ordinance prohibited installation of new aboveground storage tanks holding more than 25,000 gallons. City officials readily agreed with that limit, and had already advised NGL of it when Rose began an email barrage on the topic. It was his other discovery, of a zoning rule that prohibits local storage of any fuel or “illuminating gas” in amounts that exceed 10,000 cubic feet, that caused a kerfuffle.

Code Enforcement Officer Pat Doucette initially issued an interpretation claiming the rule did not apply, because the propane would be liquefied. Under pressure from Rose, backed by Councilor Brad Fox and aided by local media coverage, the city hired Portland engineering firm Woodard and Curran to weigh in.

That report, delivered June 4 at a cost of $3,200, did not back Rose’s assessment that liquid propane counts as a gas. However, the report did say NGL’s tanks, as proposed, would always have enough gas in them to trigger the ordinance limit.

NGL has since said it will explore options for getting its project approved, including applying for a change in the zoning language. Its current storage yard in Portland is getting the boot due to expansion of the International Marine Terminal.

Meanwhile, City Manger Jim Gailey said the months-long debate — in which Rose repeatedly accused the city of harboring a “shadow government,” claiming in one interview that Gailey was a “patsy” to his former bosses in the planning and development office — will result in two new policies.

Gailey said the planning office is looking into how best to post site plan applications to the city website “as soon as they are received,” in order to foster public awareness and input early in the development process for new projects.

“The planning department is working on how to link something onto their website,” Gailey said. “Once that’s ready, things will go up as soon as possible after an application is received, maybe only waiting a couple of days for staff to review it to to make sure it’s halfway decent, in terms of it being complete enough for the department to put it out there for review.”

Gailey also said a waiting period, possibly as long as five says, has been imposed on issuing guidance to applicants.

“Historically, we have met with applicants in pre-application meetings,” Gailey said. “In those, the applicant kind of tells staff what their proposal is and what they want to do. In the past, staff has tried to comb through the ordinances during that meeting in order to try and give the applicant an idea before they leave of whether they are heading down the right path.”

In other words, upon receipt of an application, city planners have, within the confines of a brief meeting, tried to point out what does and does not jibe with city code. Now, staffers will take more time to review the application before offering advice on what, if anything, needs to change in order to comply with city codes.

“That will give them some time to go back to the desk and really thumb though the ordinances, and to reach out to other staff members or third-party representatives, or to formulate additional questions,” Gailey said. “I think it’s a better way of doing things, with the caveat that whatever feedback we give is still only as good as the information we get from the applicant during the pre-application meeting.”

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