June 05, 2020

Member of jet fuel panel urges action

CAMDEN — It is time for environmentally concerned residents to get involved with the issue of shipment of jet fuel, no matter where they live, according to Jeff Dodge, a member of the town’s Jet Fuel Committee.

The committee has won the blessing of the Camden Board of Selectmen to work to avert truck shipments of jet fuel across Route 1.

The Defense Logistics Agency has announced plans to close the Defense Fuel Support Port-Casco Bay pipeline in Harpswell, 10 miles from the Brunswick Naval Air Station. Once the pipeline is closed, the DLA will transport fuel by barge from New York 90 miles past Harpswell to Searsport, then truck the fuel back to Brunswick.

The plan, and the possibility that the trucks would drive through Camden village, has some residents up in arms.

“This is not a local issue. This is a global issue,” said Jet Fuel Committee Chairman Peter Smith, a former military aviator. “I am concerned about my government spending my tax dollar in the best way.”

The alternative plan, to ship oil past Brunswick to Searsport, is inefficient, he said. If Harpswell has to be closed, then the fuel should go by rail.

Smith said the group would approach the Committee for Sensible Transportation, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups for assistance in the fight. Sen. George J. Mitchell also has pledged interest and support, he said.

The news that the Harpswell pipeline was being closed came through the newspaper, according to Nancy Anderson, administrative assistant at the facility. It has been reported that from $6.3 million to $14 million would be needed to keep the pipeline open. Minor cosmetic improvements and some piling replacement are all that is needed, she said.

The fuel level through the pipeline has been constant, but Brunswick is slated to have two additional squadrons. The pipeline charges 3.5 cents a gallon to pump to the BNAS, a price trucks would be hard-pressed to match.

But federal officials “feel they are not accountable for the environment. They say there is no environmental hazard. The more people handle jet fuel, the greater a chance of an accident,” Anderson said. “It is stupid to truck fuel 180 miles instead of pumping it 10 miles.”

The Harpswell pipeline has not had a single leak in 37 years. Last year, there were 765 accidents in the United States that involved fuel trucks, she said.

Not everyone is against the federal proposal.

Charles Clark, the terminal superintendent at Searsport, said the additional fuel shipments would be needed to keep the facility open, when Loring closes in three years. In addition, the Maine National Guard is expected to decrease shipments. Both are served by pipeline from Searsport. When Loring closes, 22 jobs will be lost at Searsport, Clark said.

Environmentalists should be as concerned with fuel shipments on Penobscot Bay as they are with ones on Route 1, Clark said. Camden resident William Meisle said, “I am a lot more concerned with truck traffic 12 feet from my door than I am a tanker in the bay.”

No one is against the shipment of jet fuel, Smith said. “We are not going back to the Amish horse-and-buggy days. The fuel has to move.”

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