Safety still No.1 concern as Sea-3 hearings continue: Newington board hears from Pan Am, track and state officials
|Posted on March 15, 2014 at 11:25 AM|
NEWINGTON — More than 100 people packed a Newington Planning Board hearing where they grilled representatives from Pan Am Railways and Sea-3 about the local facility’s plan to expand its propane terminal and put more cars carrying propane on area railroad tracks.
Although the project involves Sea-3’s Newington plant, the hearing room at Newington Town Hall was filled with residents and city officials from Portsmouth as well.
Catherine DiPentima, a resident of Portsmouth, stood at the front of the room Monday night and gestured toward the audience before saying, “Everybody in this room is concerned about safety.”
She described Sea-3’s proposed expansion of its propane terminal as “an enormous expansion of potentially explosive materials.”
The meeting was also attended by state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, City Councilor Esther Kennedy and City Manager John Bohenko, who spoke on behalf of Mayor Robert Lister, who couldn’t attend the meeting because he was traveling.
“The city of Portsmouth is very concerned with the transportation of propane through the city,” Bohenko said Monday night.
Bohenko said Lister supported the request by what was described as “a group of Portsmouth residents who have serious concerns” about Sea-3’s proposal to conduct “a comprehensive safety assessment” along with a “comprehensive environmental impact study.”
The group was represented by attorney Christopher Cole.
The crowd also heard from John Killoy, acting deputy regional administrator of the Federal Rail Administration, who at several points stressed the safety of moving propane by rail.
“It’s moved very safely in the type of cars it’s moved in,” Killoy said. “Accidents are few and far between.”
Pan Am Railways Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano repeated a promise that she made in a Portsmouth meeting last week, saying that if the Sea-3 project is approved, the railroad would make improvements to the rail line carrying the propane that would upgrade the tracks from Class 1 to Class 2 status.
She said the railroad inspects Class 2 lines twice a week and Class 1 lines once a week.
The improvements would include installing “10,000 new ties and some crossties.”
By moving to a Class 2 line, trains could travel up to 25 miles per hour, but Scarano again repeated Pan Am’s intention to operate the cars at 10 miles per hour.
But she also stressed that might not always be the case.
“I can’t guarantee that,” Scarano said.
When residents raised concerns about the inspections of bridges along the line, Killoy acknowledged that it is up to the rail line to inspect its own tracks and bridges, but the company could “audit the inspections” and do follow-up inspections as necessary.
Killoy also acknowledged that Pan Am would initially make the decision to move from Class 1 to Class 2 lines.
Scarano agreed, but said if the expansion project is approved, the work updating the lines to Class 2 would be completed “in a construction season.”
When a Planning Board member asked if Sea-3 officials would agree to include their commitment to have the lines upgraded to Class 2, Portsmouth attorney Alec McEachern said neither Sea-3 nor the Planning Board could tell Pan Am what to do once the rail cars leave Sea-3’s property.
“Your jurisdiction ends when they (Pan Am) come to take it away,” McEachern said about the railroad cars.
But Cole argued that the Portsmouth residents he was representing weren’t trying to “regulate the rails,” but they did want the board to make sure Sea-3 and Pan Am could safely handle “millions of gallons of flammable material.
He then asked the board to order Sea-3 to conduct a “comprehensive safety study” and have the company pay for it, which Newington zoning laws allow the town to do.
“It’s not pie in the sky,” he said of his request.
Toward the end of the hearing, Planning Board Chairman Denis Hebert acknowledged the need for more propane in New England.
“I know we do need propane for this area, but we need to do it safely,” Hebert said.
But he also promised the crowd that if the board didn’t think the expansion project could operate safely, “I don’t think this board will approve it.”
He also pointed out the alternative to bringing the propane in by rail is to transport it by trucks on the highway.
“That’s a lot more unsafe,” he said.
The board made no decision on the application Monday night and instead continued the hearing until March 24, when representatives from the state Department of Transportation are scheduled to attend.
The Sea-3 expansion would allow the Newington propane terminal to receive propane from United States suppliers via rail, instead of paying the significantly more expensive cost of getting its propane from overseas ships.