SEARSPORT - Public hearings by the planning board on a proposed propane terminal officially came to a close on Monday night but not without a fight from opponents who protested with shouts and signs that their right to speak had been cut short.
The Feb. 25 meeting, which included cross examination of officials and expert witnesses and comments from the general public, marked the end of a series of hearings that began last November and has stretched over a dozen nights in the intervening months. Meetings often approached four hours long, and their location was moved from Union Hall in the town office building to Searsport District High School as the number of attendants, largely opponents of the development, grew.
At issue is a proposal by Colorado-based DCP Midsteam to construct a terminal for import of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG, distributed as propane) near Mack Point that would include a 23-million-gallon storage tank. Citizens have expressed concerns about the effect of the tank on tourism and property values, the safety of the facility, effects of increased truck traffic and the potential of the terminal shifting from importing to exporting.
Planning Board Chairman announced early at Monday night's meeting that the he intended to conclude testimony at 9:30 p.m., but when testimony from officials ended at 8:30 and a line of 40 people formed behind the microphone set up for public comment, it was clear that something was going to have to give.
Members of the public who spoke included mostly citizens from Searsport and surrounding towns — one speaker had traveled from Norridgewock and said he had friends in the area — and all expressed opposition to, or concern about, the propane terminal.
With a dozen speakers waiting at the microphone, Probert ended the public comment session shortly after 9:30 p.m. The closure of the hearing prompted complaints that ramped up to accusations that the Planning Board was in alliance with the developer.
A number of opponents produced signs reading "We will not be silenced" while others continued to deliver testimony into the microphone after it had been shut off.
"You're in DCP's pocket," a woman who identified herself as a Searsport resident yelled at Probert.
Probert shouted back, "You have no idea what you're talking about. I have a stack of letters three feet high."
Probert invited those who did not speak to submit written testimony to the record and set several dates in early March for submission of materials by advocates for DCP Midstream the opponent group Thanks But No Tank and other officially recognized parties.
The Planning Board is scheduled to begin deliberations on DCP's application on March 27. The first meeting will be held at 6:30 at Union Hall.
Ethan Andrews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org