|Posted on July 24, 2014 at 1:10 PM|
PORTSMOUTH — Mayor Bob Lister is tired of waiting for a response from Gov. Maggie Hassan's office to a request he made in a June 18 letter sharing his concerns about the expansion of the Sea-3 propane facility in Newington.
"I would have appreciated at this point a response back from the governor's office," Lister said during an interview Monday. "We need to have a combined effort on this."
Lister and the City Council have been fighting the expansion of the Sea-3 facility — which the Newington Planning Board recently approved — because it will mean a substantial increase in the amount of trains carrying propane through downtown Portsmouth and other parts of the city.
City officials, along with numerous city residents, have voiced concerns about the condition of the railroad tracks owned by Pan Am Railways, on which the propane cars would travel.
Lister expressed his concern in the letter, saying the safety issue is a "statewide concern because transportation of hazardous material is an issue of public health, safety and welfare."
"This letter is to request that the state, through the Department of Safety and Department of Transportation, perform a comprehensive safety and risk analysis regarding all aspects of the transportation of LPG (liquefied propane gas) throughout the state, which would include hazard identification, vulnerability assessment, risk evaluation, environmental risk assessment, analysis of emergency response capabilities and a security assessment," Lister said in the letter.
Lister said he was promised somebody from the governor's office would reach out to him either Monday or Tuesday, but by late Tuesday afternoon, no one had.
William Hinkle, press secretary for Hassan, said Tuesday that representatives from the governor's office have had "multiple conversations with him since this letter was sent."
Hinkle also said Tuesday in a prepared statement that Hassan's office "has been working with the appropriate state and federal agencies about the questions raised by the mayor."
"The governor is preparing a request to send to the federal government on the issue and will continue working with the relevant stakeholders to ensure the safety of New Hampshire citizens," Hinkle said in the statement.
Lister also said Tuesday he has not heard back from the state yet on whether it is prepared to pay for part or all of the cost of upgrading the six rail crossings in the city.
City Staff Attorney Jane Ferrini has estimated the cost of the upgrades will be $2.4 million.
"I've not heard from them, but of course, that's one of the questions I want to get answered when I finally do," Lister said.
Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president of Pan Am Railways, has said the approval of Sea-3's expansion means the railroad will upgrade the tracks from Class 1 to Class 2, which will allow the trains to travel at speeds of up to 25 mph.
She said the railroad plans to limit the trains to 10 mph, but she said that could change.
The railroad has already installed 500 new ties along the line and will continue with that process if the appeals the city has filed with the town of Newington and Rockingham Superior Court end in Sea-3's favor, Scarano said at a recent Portsmouth City Council meeting she attended.
Lister points out in his letter to Hassan that the requests for the comprehensive safety assessment the city of Portsmouth asked for was never done.
"During the public hearing process, the city specifically requested that Newington require a safety/hazard assessment to identify the risks and hazards associated with transporting LPG through the city and other affected communities," Lister said in the letter. "Unfortunately, no such stipulation was required of the applicant and the city has appealed the Newington Planning Board's approval of the Sea-3's expansion to compel such a study."
That appeal is scheduled to be heard Aug. 25