Propane moves into Maine by rail, so it would seem that New England’s largest rail yard would be the logical place to put a regional distribution hub.

But that’s not the logic that’s applied when it’s a propane facility proposed for South Portland’s Rigby Yard, where neighborhood concerns are trumping regional needs, and some City Council members are using all the tools at their disposal to slow down or scuttle this project.

This is too important a piece of infrastructure for the critics to get such an unfair homefield advantage. City officials have a duty to consider all legitimate health and safety concerns when reviewing a project, and they have a responsibility to enforce the zoning codes that are on the books. They should not, however, invent new rules to make an applicant jump through hoops in the hope that he will go away.

The issue is a result of some good news from the Portland waterfront.

The state is partnering with Americold to build a cold-storage facility adjacent to the International Marine Terminal. The project will be a huge boon to Maine farmers, fishermen and food processors, but it will displace NGL, which has operated a propane facility on the site for many years.

The company originally proposed building a 360,000-gallon storage facility at Rigby Yard in South Portland, which exceeded the limits in the city’s zoning ordinance. The company scaled back its proposal to combine a single fixed 24,000-gallon tank to be used in conjunction with several rail tank cars, which would be attatched to trains going to other parts of the state.

The city has legitimate questions about the safe construction and operation of the facility, but the planning process is the right way to answer them. Instead, some in the city are throwing up bureaucratic obstacles.

First, the opponents of the plan put forward a moratorium proposal, which would have delayed the project long enough for the city to rewrite its zoning code. (A moratorium would require a supermajority vote from the council.) Now they are pushing fire code amendments that would kill the scaled-back plan and could be passed with a simple majority vote.

Twisting the fire code until it becomes a land-use regulation is hardly a fair process. People in Maine suffer when propane becomes scarce and expensive, and they deserve better treatment from South Portland.

Rigby Yard is an industrial zone, and there are already as many as 100 rail cars loaded with propane every day moving through it. It even has an existing facility where propane trucks are loaded directly from rail cars. It already is a regional hub for propane distribution. But to hear the critics, the company is proposing a new and dangerous use that introduces new risk to people’s lives.

Residents have a right to demand that all reasonable efforts are made to keep them safe, but they don’t have a right to cut off other people’s fuel to satisfy every single imagined concern.

South Portland has a zoning code and an approval process that would balance the rights of all interested parties. Elected officials should let that process play out.

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