Bridgton Planners approve propane tank plan

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

“I can’t imagine there’s a word that hasn’t been said, or a point that hasn’t been made,” Bridgton Planning Board member Dee Miller said Tuesday, as the board pondered whether to reopen public comments about the Bridgton Bottled Gas propane tank application.

With that, the board began closed deliberations, and an hour later, granted conditional approval for the company to site a 30,000-gallon propane tank on their property at the end of a 12-lot subdivision on Raspberry Lane. The 5-0 vote ended months of vigorous opposition by Raspberry Lane residents, concerned about both safety and traffic.

The board was able to partially assuage traffic concerns, by requiring Bridgton Bottled Gas to make any improvements deemed necessary to the entrance to Raspberry Lane to ensure that the big tanker trucks have enough turning radius from the Portland Road to enter and leave without obstructing the flow of regular traffic. Raspberry Lane was built in 1988, and is not up to the town’s current width standards for subdivisions.

Public Works Director Jim Kidder, working with an engineer paid for by Bridgton Bottled Gas, will determine how much widening is needed, and the company will pay for the work, the board ruled as a condition of approval. The suggestion came from board member Fred Packard, who pointed out that propane tankers are nearly 70 feet long, and that the road’s current turning radius is inadequate.

“In 2015, we’re supposed to use the most current standards” for subdivision road widths, Packard said. “That would only be protecting the town’s liability.”

Bridgton Bottled Gas wanted to place the entrance on the Portland Road, but the Maine Department of Transportation denied that request, and also declined to reconsider their decision when Raspberry Lane residents objected. Access to the property from the Portland Road will be limited to firefighting equipment, for setup as a staging area.

Another condition required by the board, an entrance sign, was suggested by Chairman Steve Collins, and is intended to keep the tanker trucks from traveling any further on Raspberry Lane than necessary. The unlighted sign will be placed at the new entrance road to the property on Raspberry Lane, and would also state, “Raspberry Lane not a throughway.”

Some residents were concerned that the tanker trucks might get lost and travel the half-mile length to the cul-de-sac at the end of the road.

But while the board was able to deal with traffic safety concerns on Tuesday, they did not discuss the residents’ other big safety concern — what to do in the case of a propane tank leak. In the board’s painstaking review of all 28 elements of the town’s site plan review standards, no comment was made on element 12, having to do with the adequacy of municipal services to service the project.

Residents had stated that the proposed evacuation plan of “sheltering in place” at the end of the dead-end road was inadequate. They also said the estimated 10-minute response time by the town’s fire department was inadequate, and that the subdivision’s fire pond had not been maintained over the years and could not handle a major fire.

The board voted without comment, however, that element 12 had been met. Fire Chief Glen Garland had earlier stated his department was satisfied it could respond adequately to an emergency at the site.

Another condition set by the board was that a correction be made to the form submitted by Bridgton Bottled Gas to the State Fire Marshal’s office that indicated two entrances to the project. Board member Brian Thomas pointed out that there are not two, but one entrance to the filling operation, and the company was ordered to make that correction.

Other concerns raised by residents about the project went unaddressed during the board’s deliberation. These include questions raised over a possible conflict of interest by Bridgton Bottled Gas owner Todd Perreault, who is the town’s Assistant Fire Chief and its Emergency Management Director; and the fact that the new entrance road was built before the board issued its decision on the application. Collins had stated at an earlier meeting that the timing on building the entrance road would be addressed by the town’s code enforcement officer.

A discussion of procedural questions preceded the board’s deliberation, led by attorney Autumn Pinette, standing in for Town Attorney Dick Spencer. Raspberry Lane resident Gary Laplante had argued that subjective statements made by board member Dee Miller following last month’s public hearing constituted a continuation of the public hearing, but Pinette disagreed.

Referring to Miller, Pinette said “She acknowledged the concerns of the public, and the accurate limits of (the board’s) review” imposed upon them by the current Site Plan Review Ordinance. “None of that strikes me as procedural error.”

Another resident, Robert Tyszka, had also mailed packets of supplemental information to board members’ homes after the hearing ended. Collins immediately intervened and e-mailed the board members, telling them not to read the information. Pinette said the board needed to vote whether to reopen the hearing, and the vote was unanimous not to do so.

A third procedural matter concerned proposed findings of fact submitted by the attorney representing Bridgton Bottled Gas. This was a first for the board, Collins said, but Pinette said it isn’t out of the ordinary in other communities for a project applicant to suggest to a board the reasons for making a positive finding on an application.

The board voted not to consider the applicant’s findings, but to have them drawn up per usual by the town’s attorney. Those findings will be voted on for final approval by the board at their next meeting.

After the vote, Collins said, “This has been a relatively long and reasonably complicated application. I want to thank the applicant for doing a good, clean job of his application, and thank the abutters for their engaged and very polite engagement of this issue.”

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