Hearing Examiner denies Inter-Island Propane’s tank request

After months of deliberation, San Juan County Hearing Examiner Sharon Rice has denied Inter-Island Propane’s request to house a 30,000-gallon propane storage tank at 27 Seaview Street in Eastsound.

Rice finalized her decision on Oct. 2 after postponing her determination on Aug. 31 and requesting more information from Inter-Island Propane, county staff and local fire agencies.

“It was obvious from the very beginning that the propane tank would have been a time bomb waiting to go off smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” said Eric Gourley, who owns property near the proposed tank site. “I commend the hearing examiner Sharon Rice for denying the application. It was the right thing to do.”

Inter-Island Propane, based on San Juan Island, asked the county for permission to put the storage tank on a vacant lot of land zoned service and light industrial. Inter-Island was in the process of purchasing the land. According to conclusion documents, for a conditional use permit to be approved, 10 criteria must be met.

The requirements of criterion 5, which states the area is “adequately served by existing public facilities and services including fire protection and water,” were not met in the application. Rice said that the water available from Eastsound Water User Association’s existing infrastructure is not sufficient for necessary fire suppression. Additionally, Rice noted, Orcas Island Fire and Rescue is not prepared, with either staff or equipment, for a potential fire and evacuation situation.

Rice also wrote in her conclusion that the application did not meet criterion 3: “the proposed use will not cause significant adverse impacts on the human or natural environments that cannot be mitigated by conditions of approval,” by not providing an evacuation route in case of emergency.

The application also failed criterion 9: “the proposal does not include any use or activity that would result in the siting of an incompatible use adjacent to an airport or airfield.” Port of Orcas Manager Tony Simpson wrote a response to the remand order that said the airport does not consent to having its runways used for an emergency evacuation plan.

“Certainly, in an unforeseen emergency such as an overturned delivery truck we would assist our neighbors as needed,” wrote Simpson. “But we are not granting an a priori easement to the fire department or our neighbors to ingress or egress across port property.”

The permit request, filed on May 31, first went before the hearing examiner on July 13. It was a contentious process from the start, and more than 30 letters were submitted to the examiner from residents in the neighborhood. The letters cited concerns about increased traffic, a leak or a possible explosion.

During the July 13 hearing, Rice said the county had until July 27 to respond in writing to the public comments. Inter-Island Propane co-owner Donny Galt requested to have the option to respond, and he had until July 31. On Aug. 14, Rice extended the response period out one week. Galt did not respond to the Sounder’s requests for an interview prior to press deadline.