— 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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.