Island County judge overturns propane tank permit denial

A previously denied conditional-use permit for a 30,000-gallon propane storage tank on Seaview Street has been appealed and approved.

Judge Alan R. Hancock of the Island County Superior Court heard arguments from San Juan County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Amy Vira and Inter-Island Propane attorney Carla Higginson on April 20.

“Inter-Island has borne its burden of proving that the hearing examiner’s denial of its application for a conditional use permit … was a clearly erroneous application of the law to the facts,” wrote Hancock in the court’s conclusion. “This court has a definite and firm conviction that the denial of the application was mistaken.”

San Juan County Hearing Examiner Sharon Rice denied the permit on Oct. 2 after postponing her determination on Aug. 31 and requesting more information from Inter-Island Propane, county staff and local fire agencies.

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 purchased the property before the denial was cast.

The permit request, filed on May 31, 2017, 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, 2017, 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.

For a conditional use permit to be approved, 10 criteria must be met. Rice said that three criteria points were not met: criterion 5 stated that the area be “adequately served by existing public facilities and services including fire protection and water”’; criterion 3 said, “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; and criterion 9, which read that, “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.”

Hancock’s appeal documentation stated that Inter-Island addressed all of these criteria points in its application and that Rice did not acknowledge this in her denial. He wrote that Rice repeated sentiments made by people and entities that commented on the request, but did not use the facts to make her decision.

Inter-Island Propane is now allowed to install a 30,000-gallon storage tank at its 27 Seaview St. property. The company has five years from the appeal’s issuance date to do so, or else the court’s determination becomes null and void.