SEARSPORT - Mike Lucy, of the security consulting firm Good Harbor offered a glimpse into the mind of a risk assessment expert on Monday night as he tried to focus a laser pointer on a video projection of plans for a large-scale propane terminal at Mack Point.
"Make sure I don't zap anybody's eye," he said to no one in particular, as the red dot appeared on the screen.
Lucy and Frank Gallagher of Good Harbor opened their presentation on Monday to the Searsport Planning Board by restating the conclusion of the firm's 100-plus page report on the controversial development proposed by Colorado-based DCP Midstream: under the current conditions, it's too risky.
The airline that was to bring Good Harbor's chairman, former national security advisor Richard Clarke, up from Washington, D.C. apparently made a similar assessment, as the second scheduled appearance of the opposition's star witness was blocked by the tailings of the weekend blizzard. Clarke was originally slated to present on behalf of Good Harbor in January at a meeting was cancelled by the town after a snowstorm closed schools.
The plan submitted by DCP Midstream would include a 23-million gallon bulk storage tank and supporting infrastructure located on a parcel northeast of Mack Point and just south of Route 1. The facility would receive liquefied petroleum gas (LPG, sold commercially as propane) by cargo ship and distribute it by truck and possibly rail or pipeline.
The terminal drew objections from abutters and local business owners when it was first proposed in late 2010. During the two-plus years of local deliberations the sphere of opposition has widened to include factions from neighboring municipalities, including Belfast, Islesboro and North Haven. The Good Harbor All Risk Assessment report was commissioned by Islesboro Islands Trust, a nonprofit conservancy and advocacy group that opposes the LPG terminal.
DCP Midstream currently has all the federal and state permits for the development, and is awaiting a ruling from the Searsport Planning Board.
Monday night's meeting, which focused on the Good Harbor report, continued a series of municipal public hearings started last November.
Lucy and Gallagher outlined a list of concerns, many of which were based on worst case scenarios involving fires or explosions at the facility. The report contained a number of blast analyses modeled on explosions of up to 90,000 gallons of propane. Many of these extended outside the property lines of the proposed terminal, which Lucy and Gallagher saw as problematic for permitting, and out of line with other LPG facilities.
The consultants commended local officials and emergency personnel for doing good work with limited resources, but said the existing services along with mutual aid agreements would be inadequate in the case of a "catastrophic incident."
"You cannnot leave these considerations to post-permitting. They should be considered as part of the permitting process," Lucy said, adding that any verbal agreements would be difficult to enforce after the permit was issued.
The Good Harbor report included detailed charts about the probabilities of various accidents, many of these were considered rare or unlikely. Lucy said the final recommendation, however, was based less on the likelihood of something happening than the regions ability to respond to a worst case scenario.
"Folks get so hung up on, is it a a 'rare' event or is it a 'possible' event ... versus, if it happens, what do we do? How do we respond? What systems are in place to take care of it?" he said. "And if you can't answer those questions, which we felt in a few cases could not be answered, that's cause for concern and that should be addressed before going forward."
Planning Board member Mark Bradstreet was one of several commenters who asked about probability. "I'm just wondering how much this is happening at other facilities?" he said.
Lucy cited an incident in California that was caused by human error.
"Again, if we start talking numbers you can look at it from a number of different directions," he said. "But ultimately ... when you take a step back, it's not so much: is it a low probability, is it a high probability, but what if it occurs, how do we respond to that? What are the systems that are in place?"
In cross examination, some felt the expectation that a full plan and resources would be available before a permit was issued were unrealistic.
Capt. Alan Moore of the U.S. Coast Guard testified that the agency has precautions related to cargo ships that take effect after permitting but before ships can travel the regional waterways.
Capt. David Gelinas of the Penobscot Bay & River Pilots Association said it was unrealistic to expect a family-operated tug company to buy equipment specific to fighting a potential fire on an LPG tanker before it was known whether the development would exist. Gelinas said the Coast Guard requirements should be enough.
Lucy and Gallagher declined to answer many questions on marine issues but offered responses at a later date from a consultant who was not in attendance.
Cross examination from DCP Midstream's attorney, Jamie Kilbreth, focused on perceived inconsistencies in the report and the focus on a potential catastrophe despite the existence of numerous small propane tanks in the area — one slide showed tanks behind Angler's Restaurant.
Roughly 200 people attended the meeting on Monday night. The public hearings are scheduled to continue on Tuesday and Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Searsport District High School.
Ethan Andrews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org