Elodie Reed, St. Albans Messenger
There’s just no rhyme or reason …
ENOSBURG FALLS —Village trustees approved changes to the village by-laws last week making it possible for a local company to build a 60,000-gallon propane storage and distribution facility here.
However, opponents of the project could still file a petition forcing the issue to a public vote.
D & D Properties, LLC., doing business as Blouin Brothers, last April (see timeline) asked the village Development Review Board (DRB) for permission to construct the facility near the corner of Orchard Street and Route 105, across the street from Sticks & Stuff.
The DRB voted unanimously to deny the permit. At the time the village by-laws barred hazardous materials from the commercial zone. Hazardous materials are allowed as a conditional use in the industrial zone, which includes the village’s industrial park and a nearby area on the northwest side of Route 105.
D & D then appealed to the Vermont Environmental Court, asking whether the village’s exclusion of propane facilities but not gas stations from the commercial district is discriminatory, among other issues.
The owners of D & D, Daniel Larose and Daniel Carswell, also sought to change the by-laws, first with a request to the planning commission to consider the issue and then with a petition.
When the planning commission met last month to consider the proposed by-law change several members of the public expressed concern about the safety of allowing propane tanks in the commercial district. Similar concerns were raised at the two public hearings hosted by the village trustees.
At the planning commission meeting Paul Stanley, a longtime Bakersfield fire chief, suggested village officials should be aware of the size and location of the proposed facility. According to the minutes of the meeting, Stanley said there is no way to evacuate so many people so quickly.
D & D plans to locate two 30,000-gallon propane tanks on the site. According to Christopher Herrick, head of the state’s Hazardous Materials Response Team, the evacuation radius for a tank of this size is one mile if there were a fire impinging on the tank. The evacuation zone for a leak is smaller, about 800 meters.
“The concern is for what they call a BLEVE (boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion), and that’s a pretty rare event,” said Herrick.
In a propane tank, about 80 percent of the propane is liquid and 20 percent is vapor, explained Herrick. The danger occurs when a fire heats the tank and causes the liquid to boil. Relief valves will vent the excess vapor and the tank itself will continue to safely contain the propane as long as liquid remains in the tank. If the liquid boils away, the tank will fail, causing a dangerous explosion.
Train derailments, in which cars adjacent to the propane tank are on fire, pose the greatest risk. There is no rail line near the proposed site here. “At a bulk facility, there simply isn’t the fire load,” he said.
State regulations, which Herrick is charged with enforcing, bar the storage of flammable materials under or near bulk storage tanks. Companies must keep brush from growing around the tanks and may not store everyday materials such as pallets near the tanks, he explained.
If the facility is built it would have to comply with all fire safety codes, said Herrick.
“It has to be inspected,” said co-owner Daniel Larose. “There’s all kinds of guidelines.”
While it is minimal, there is still risk with this type of facility, according to Herrick.
Although he acknowledges the odds of the 30,000-gallon tanks exploding are probably “ridiculous,” village resident Michael Larose would still prefer not to have them located in the commercial district. “There’ just no s or reason why they should be in the village,” he said.
Larose is not against the project, but would prefer to see it sited somewhere else. If the tanks were ever endangered, the blast radius would include most of the village and its emergency shelter locations, he said.
Emergency personnel in St. Albans City were forced to evacuate homes near the Liberty Propane facility on Lower Newton Street in February when two 350-gallon propane tanks were damaged by a snowplow. Leaking propane from the tanks then caught fire. The evacuation was limited to homes and businesses near Liberty Propane, but could have expanded to include a mile around the tanks if the fire had endangered two 30,000-gallon tanks on the site.