Guest Opinion: Siting of New Propane Storage Tank Raises Concerns New Commercial Propane Tank Proposed in Eastsound

— by Paul Kamin–

In 2013 a propane leak from a 30,000 tank located at 300 Seaview St required the evacuation of residents within ½ mile of the leak. The emergency response team from Orcas Fire was surprised to find that there was not an accessible fire hydrant in the area. The County had failed to consider fire hydrant protection requirements as part of the permitting for this development.

Since that incident, that business was sold and the tank removed. Residential neighbors breathed a sigh of relief.

This month the County began processing a new permit for another 30,000 gal tank as part of a commercial development on the corner of Seaview and Aeroview, in the same residential neighborhood. The property of this proposed development is designated “service light industrial”, in which such a facility is an allowable use. However, this property is surrounded on 3 sides by existing residential development, and on the 4th side is an airplane hanger-home combination.

This is simply the wrong place to locate a large propane tank.

Propane tank leaks are not all that uncommon despite numerous safety requirements. As examples from just the last few months, and just from propane tanks of this exact size, the following incidents have been found in news reports. On March 15, 2017 a propane leak from a 30,000 gal tank in Ely MN. required the evacuation of a 1 mile radius. On March 21, 2017 a leak from a 30,000 propane tank in Ossipee NH required an evacuation that included 85 residents of a nursing home. On May 25, 2017 a leak from a 30,000 gal propane tank in Logan Township NJ required evacuation of 1900 people within a ½ mile radius.

The Eastsound Sub Area Plan that contains the applicable land use tables requires that this project go through the “conditional use permit” process. This process includes notification of residents in the immediate area. Notification provides the neighbors the opportunity to submit public comment that will be reviewed by the Hearing Examiner.

Public comment is being taken through July 12th, and can be addressed to Julie Thompson at SJC Community Development (

Given the potential scope of impact of this business the Condition Use Permit notification of nearby property owners seems grossly inadequate. At minimum the notice should have included everyone within the potential evacuation range, which could be up to 1 mile. This would include most of Eastsound.
In 2012, in Mumford NY, there was a fire at a commercial propane facility with 50,000 gal of onsite storage. The after-action incident report detailed the response required 300 fire fighters, 76 pieces of firefighting equipment, over 2 million gallons of water and more than 25 hrs. to extinguish.

Such were the resources needed to keep the burning tank from overheating and exploding. Authorities said that if any 1 of 3 tanks overheated and exploded it would likely have leveled the small town.
Given the potential impacts of this proposed development some public outreach would be in order.
Some of the questions that should be addressed include:

• Is there an adequate public notice and evacuation plan in place in case of another local incident?
• Does the local fire department have the resources to implement such a plan and respond to a potential fire on this site?
• Does the local water system have adequate capacity to support firefighting efforts at this location? (The developer has not approached Eastsound Water)
• What will the impact of this propane business be on resale values of adjacent properties?
• How will this proposed propane tank development impact property insurance rates in the neighborhood?
• What actions is the County requiring to mitigate the potential impacts of this commercial development in this residential neighborhood? Structural Fencing, Lighting, Security, Earthen berms, automatic deluge water suppression system…….?
• What risks are associated with having 30,000 of propane adjacent to multiple airplane hangers, containing aviation fuel and other combustibles? With an adjacent propane tank a hanger fire would seem to be a much more serious danger.
• Is there a better, less populated location for such facilities?
• Is the need for another Orcas propane delivery business so great to justify these additional risks?
• Perhaps the business owner or property owner would like to move to Orcas and live onsite with their propane tank?

It should be acknowledged that Eastsound adopted the land use designations that allow a 30,000 propane tank to be located between the airport and the Seaview residential neighborhood. However, there is a short window of time for citizen feedback before the hearing examiner considers this permit application. Voice your opinion.

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Guest Opinion: Siting of New Propane Storage Tank Raises Concerns New Commercial Propane Tank Proposed in Eastsound — 11 Comments

  1. I responded to the propane incident and the recent gasoline incident at the Seaview site as a member of OIFR, and as a Port Commissioner for the Port of Orcas, whose land was involved.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Paul Kamin’s comments here, and encourage the community to convey their opinion to Community Development/Planning, and to their Council representative.

  2. I would like to thank Paul Kamin for his thorough research and recommendations regarding this VERY serious issue. I totally concur with every point that he makes in his discussion.
    Several additional questions and comments; might the storage be contained in a tank farm of say ten smaller tanks separated by berms and other containment barriers? Or, perhaps, at locations around the island, closer to neighborhood customers? Two, is there not a similar, large propane(?) tank behind the old Gordy’s Garage property?
    Finally, should the County discuss and consider whether future construction of new homes or commercial structures should be designed with propane energy devices (heating, hot water, cooking)? OPALCO can most assuredly provide those services without the danger associated with propane storage.
    Our County Council representative, Rick Hughes, needs to express some thoughts on this matter, and lead the conversations that will result in a safe solution to these concerns.

  3. I don’t think that the Comp Plan would allow siting of Propane tank storage outside of the “Urban Growth Area.(Eastsound) The Hearings Examiner almost Always approves these development applications. We Really Need to find a way to Opt Out of the Comprehensive Plan.

  4. First off, the discussion of the need or lack of need for a company to locate additional propane services on the Island should never hit the desk of the county planner. That is a market based issue and has no basis in a discussion of site-specific land use.

    Secondly, while it is good to raise questions and concerns, what we all need to realize is that this type of development is EXACTLY what San Juan County has intended. When our previous government planners adopted the GMA and intentionally pushed development into miniaturized “urban” areas, they purposefully and intentionally created this type of development. In fact, less than a block from the proposed facility, the county itself just installed what could arguably be considered a more dangerous and potentially hazardous facility just 50′ from the road-side.

    Would the developer of the proposed take liked to have located their facility in a less dense area? Likely. Would they have rather put it on a 5+ acre parcel, closer to the barging port? Likely. Would they like to avoid the potential hazard of locating within a dense residential area? Likely. But… this is where the county has asked that this type of development happen.

    As a very close neighbor to this development, while I have some concerns, I also understand that it is not the business but instead the county that has created this situation. As we are all presenting our comments to the County Planning Department, how about a few additional comments to them asking them to scrap the ridiculous notion that land use planning in SJC be based on urban development concepts intended for large scale city and metro environments. Let’s focus on changing the root of the problem instead of targeting the intended consequence.

  5. The NOAA website contains a table regarding safe distances in the event of a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion (BLEVE) which is what must be protected against. The table ( lists distances for 82,000 liters (21,662 gallons) and 140,000 liters (36,984 gallons). NOAA states that extreme should be used in relying on the figures in the table. Using the larger tank size to be conservative, the table states a fireball radius of 375 feet and a preferred evacuation radius of 1-3/8 miles.

    The projected volume of water to keep a tank this size cooled is stated as 935 gals/min. Can the hydrants in the area provide a sustained flow at this rate?

    The question to be answered is how much risk is the community willing to accept. If we are unwilling to accept the risk for a new company, should we be accepting of the risk for an existing company? I’m not personally advocating either position, but it is something that needs to be considered.

  6. A number of years ago while living in Sitka, a local gas station wanted to build a liquid fuel storage tank on its property. The gas station was next door to a middle school. Lots of discussion about that. I remember a comment being made that ‘you would not build a school next to an existing, large fuel tank (it’s against the law by the way)so why would you build a fuel tank next to a school?’ The tank was not installed. I see parallels here.

  7. The way I understand this,the proposed storage tank is close to the airport.If there is a fire,additional firefighters,medical personnel etc urgently needed.they are not going to get here in time by ferry so the airport runway is landing zone…with a fire next door ? Not good.

  8. I’d encourage everyone to reach out to the owners of InterIsland and discuss your concerns. I did and while I’d still rather there be no industrial uses in my neighborhood, I do feel better. These are islanders (San Juan, not Orcas) and seem to genuinely want to do the right thing. They’re taking precautions that previous operators might not have. Hopefully there can be a way that makes this work for a local business and meets concerns of me and my neighbors.

  9. What about my property value, my home will not be sellable. And will I be covered by my homeowners insurance if something happens. This site is across the street from my home.
    Basically I will loose over 25 years worth of investment.

  10. Hello all, this is Donny Galt from Inter Island Propane in Friday Harbor. I just wanted you to know that I have personally read every one of your concerns about the new propane facility and hear you loud and clear. I reached out to some of the neighbors last week with an informal meeting and was able to hear their concerns first hand. I invite you to come meet me in person at the Eastsound Fire Hall this Wednesday the 5th of July at 7:30pm. Again, for those of you that might not know me, I have been an islander for over 35 years, grew up here, raised a family here and would never in any way want any bad feelings between my island friends and neighbors. If you cannot attend, feel free to call me 360.317.5854 or email me with any questions you may have.

    Thank you and Happy 4th of July!

    Donny Galt
    Co-Owner, Inter Island Propane LLC
    ” Your LOCAL source for Propane Sales and Service”