2015-12-04 / Front Page

Council tables propane moratorium 'indefinitely'

Wm. Duke Harrington

SOUTH PORTLAND – After nearly three hours of debate, the South Portland City Council abruptly killed a moratorium that would have put the brakes on a propane storage and distribution complex, in what appeared to be a mishandling of parliamentary procedure by those opposed to the project.

Oklahoma-based NGL Supply Terminal Co. has plans to lease nearly 10 acres from Pan Am Railways at Rigby Yard, located off Route 1, where it intends to build a 24,000-gallon liquid propane storage tank. Denied additional tanks by city code, NGL will instead utilize up to 16 30,000-gallon rail cars, for up to 504,000-gallons of storage on site.

That has given cause for alarm to some city residents, including Councilor Brad Fox, who has spent much of the past 10 months campaigning against the facility. Also raising the red flag has been Councilor Eben Rose. In fact, Rose was the first to speak out against NGL, back in February, when it appeared the city planning office was prepared to allow multiple storage tanks, using an alternate reading of the relevant codes.

Rose subsequently won election to the council and was attending his first meeting Wednesday, Dec. 9.

Based on comments from each councilor, both on Dec. 9 and from a Nov. 9 workshop, it appeared votes were lined up 4-3 in favor of passing the moratorium. That would have sent the measure to the planning board for review. However, the moratorium would likely have died upon its return to the council for a final reading, because South Portland's city charter requires a supermajority of five yes votes to adopt any zoning amendment.

With the hour getting late, Fox made what appeared to be a surprise move to his fellow councilors, motioning to postpone the moratorium vote "indefinitely." Rose seconded the motion, saying, as did Fox, that more time was required to assess the need for the moratorium.

Councilor Linda Cohen balked at the motion, adding that buying time is exactly what a moratorium is designed to do. She also pointed out that a motion to table an item indefinitely, rather than to a specific date, effectively kills that agenda item.

Rose challenged that notion, arguing the point with City Clerk Emily Carrington and City Attorney Sally Daggett, both of whom backed Cohen's interpretation. Fox then asked to rescind his motion, but Mayor Tom Blake said Rose first needed to take back his second. Although Blake appeared to wait for him to do so, Rose made no such move. Instead, he voted with Cohen, and Councilors Maxine Beecher and Claude Morgan, to table the moratorium.

Councilor Patti Smith and Mayor Blake, both of whom supported the moratorium, voted against tabling. Fox also voted against his own motion, having apparently realized his mistake.

During round-robin comments at the end of the meeting, Rose complained of "hidden rules of the game that are in some ways counter intuitive." That appeared to be in reference to the moratorium vote, but also, Rose said more directly, related to his ongoing defense of Fox, who has come under criticism for lobbying his fellow councilors on the NGL issue via a private email account.

The council was scheduled to enter into a workshop session following the close of its regular meeting to debate fire code amendments drafted by Fox and a host of NGL opponents. However, with 11 p.m. drawing near, the council voted unanimously to reschedule that meeting.

Morgan, who opposes Fox's fire code proposal, calling it an "end run" on NGL, and who has been the most outspoken critic of Fox's email use, was particularly disdainful of the moratorium, right up until Fox accidentally killed it.

“In my 10 years of public service, this is one of the dirtiest, maybe most amateur attempts to block a project I have ever seen,” he said.


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