(SOURCE: KeepMeCurrent.com, By Kate Irish Collins)
the City Council should take action on a proposed new liquid propane
distribution facility before an application for the project has even
been officially submitted is at the center of a debate in South
But other questions surrounding a preliminary plan to allow the NGL
Supply Terminals Co. to move from Portland to the Rigby Rail Yard, off
Route 1, are being asked, as well, including whether interpretation of
the city’s code of ordinances should be left up to residents or paid
Mayor Linda Cohen told the Current she believes the
council should not intervene and that “staff should be allowed to do
what they always do – follow their normal procedures” when it comes to
determining whether a liquid propane operation at the rail yard adheres
to the city’s ordinances.
“At this point, there is not even a
complete application before the Planning Board. If and when there is,
the public process will begin,” she said.
Councilor Brad Fox
disagrees. He said that it’s up to councilors to ensure that the laws of
South Portland are followed by elected officials and staff alike.
my job as a councilor to ensure the health, safety and general welfare
of the people of South Portland (and) I take that responsibility very
seriously,” he said. “I think that the people of South Portland expect
their elected officials to pay attention to things that may (do) harm
and to obey the law.”
Fox has asked the City Council to provide oversight of NGL Supply Terminals Co.’s potential move to South Portland.
of the Current’s Tuesday deadline, it’s unclear if the company wants to
move its operations to the Rigby Yard, which would include construction
of six, 60,000-gallon, above-ground tanks to hold liquid propane that
would come in by rail and then be transferred to delivery trucks.
Planning Board held an initial workshop with officials from NGL in late
February, and Tex Haeuser, South Portland’s director of planning, said
his office has not received anything new from NGL since then.
addition to the new storage tanks, NGL was also proposing construction
of an 1,800-square-foot office building, with associated parking, as
well as new security fencing.
NGL has not responded to the Current’s requests for comment, nor have officials with Pan Am Railways, which owns the Rigby Yard.
to the Maine Historical Society, the Rigby Yard was the base of the
Maine Central Railroad, and the location of the interchange with the
Boston and Maine line. It was built in 1923 on the site of a former
horseracing track and is commonly referred to as the largest rail yard
facility in New England.
Questions about whether the NGL proposal
meets South Portland’s zoning standards were first raised by resident
Eben Rose, who wrote an opinion column in the April 9 issue of the
Current in which he argued the plan should have been “dead on arrival.”
Instead, he said, NGL was allowed to make its pitch to the Planning
Board while Pat Doucette, the city’s code enforcement officer, and Sally
Daggett, the city attorney, “deliberately kept” board members in the
dark about a city ordinance that prohibits any project that would store
gas in excess of 10,000 cubic feet.
But in a memo to City Manager
Jim Gailey, dated April 15, Haeuser said he and Doucette both originally
felt that the NGL proposal is a permitted use at the Rigby Yard. In the
memo, he argued planning staff did not at first think the provision of
code cited by Rose applied, since the product being stored would be
“primarily in a liquid state.”
However, after further review,
which he said was conducted in part because of the questions raised by
Rose, Haeuser said planning staff determined in early April that the NGL
plan was incomplete and encouraged company officials to consider a
variety of alternatives.
Those alternatives, according to
Haeuser’s memo, include seeking a zoning amendment or requesting a
waiver from the City Council on the current above-ground storage tank
capacity rules. He also told Gailey that the planning staff has
encouraged Rose to pursue an administrative appeal “as a way to settle
the issues being discussed,” which Rose has not yet done.
And, in a
memo to Gailey, which is dated March 11, Doucette said she “carefully”
considered the city code and initially did not agree with Rose’s
interpretation of the law.
But, in his guest column in the Current
earlier this month, Rose said one of the reasons he’s been persistent
in raising the issue of whether city staff interpreted the code
correctly is because “no vision delivered by a Comprehensive Plan or
rising through a committee amounts to much if our frontline defenders of
the code ignore it.”
Since then, Rose has told the Current that
another of his concerns is for the city not to waste staff time and
resources “considering prohibited proposals.”
He added that since,
in his view, the NGL proposal is actually prohibited by two sections of
the code, “they should have been turned away at the door.”
NGL wants this project, they first need to try to change these
established zoning laws through the council,” Rose said, adding, “the
council enacts laws codified in our code of ordinances. It is not
staff’s place to invent new code or to make concerted efforts to work
Like Fox, Rose said his most immediate concern is for health and safety, if the NGL proposal moves forward.
argued that “even the best adherence to safety codes and inspection
still are not 100 percent effective,” and said that even if the risk of a
liquid propane spill or explosion is small, it’s still “a risk that
does not presently exist.”
Fox said he decided to seek council
action after being contacted by Rose and being convinced, after a
careful reading, that NGL’s proposed project “is clearly not permitted
by two sections of the city code.”
“The language in the code is
straightforward. This has been the law in South Portland since 1995,”
said Fox. “There is no dispute that liquid natural gas is a
He added, “Our codes protect our
citizens and I want our city staff to follow the code of ordinances as
they are written. Twenty years ago, the citizens of this city lobbied
the council to limit new tanks for petroleum-based products. The council
adopted section 27-1517 and staff is failing to apply it.”
addition, Fox said, “City staff can’t ignore provisions of the zoning
ordinance to the detriment of the public welfare. (That’s why) it is
important for the council to provide clear guidance about our
Like Rose, Fox said he viewed the workshop and
staff time spent on the NGL proposal as a “waste of scarce public
resources,” which is why he asked Cohen for the council to step in.
a recent email to Cohen, he wrote, “I believe councilors should be able
to get information about how it happened. I also believe there are
times when city councilors must give policy guidance to staff.”