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Board says Providence propane company’s expansion plan needs more scrutiny

State regulators on Thursday said a proposal to expand propane storage operations must go through a full application process, dealing a victory to environmentalists, neighbors in Washington Park, and the state attorney general.

Sea 3 Providence currently brings propane on marine vessels into the Port of Providence. From there it’s stored, then eventually loaded onto trucks for sale throughout the region. The company proposed expanding its operations to bring in propane using rail service in a nearby vacant parcel, too. The company argued it didn’t need to go through a full application by the Energy Facility Siting Board.

The board disagreed.


“This decision is not a decision to deny them a license, it’s only a decision to require more inquiry,” Ronald Gerwatowski, who serves as the chair of the board, said at Thursday’s meeting.

The area has been a propane storage facility since 1975. The company told regulators the project wouldn’t have a major impact on the environment, or on health and safety.

The $15 to $20 million project, the company said, would help meet growing demand in the region for a home heating fuel source. It would also help the company buy propane at a lower cost and get it more predictably.

The company said its proposal wasn’t an alteration that needed a full regulatory process, but an “ancillary enhancement of the existing operation.”

Nearby neighbors, however, have raised concerns about the effects that the addition of railcar deliveries might have on the area. And environmentalists have objected to the addition of low-cost propane at a time when the state is trying to meet the binding greenhouse gas reduction targets in the Act on Climate law.

“This is already a neighborhood that’s already severely overburdened by pollution,” said James Crowley, an attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, which had opposed the fast-track approval of the expansion. “Anytime someone is seeking to add onto that, it’s important to stand up to that. It’s important that the regulatory agency give it a comprehensive review.”


Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office also intervened in the case, asking the Energy Facility Siting Board to reject the attempt to expand operations there without a full application process. The board determined, Neronha said, that the Act on Climate had to be considered, and that Sea 3 didn’t show the project wouldn’t cause significant safety impacts.

“There should be no room for regulatory shortcuts, and I am grateful that the ERSB saw things the same way,” Neronha said in a news release after the vote in a nondescript Warwick conference room streamed over the internet Thursday. “Today’s decision is a clear win for all Rhode Islanders, and especially those who live, play, and work near this facility.”

Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him @bamaral44.