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Ayer residents voice concerns over proposed propane distribution facility

Ayer residents voice concerns over proposed propane distribution facility
Ayer residents voice concerns over proposed propane distribution facility

AYER — Local residents voiced their concerns over a propane distribution facility planned for Fitchburg Road at a public hearing at a recent Select Board meeting.

Energy North Group, a wholesale fuel distributor, was seeking approval from the Ayer Select Board to store about 74,000 gallons of propane gas and 165 gallons of methanol at its proposed site. Plans for the facility had already been approved by the town’s Planning Board.

The major concern among residents was the proposed facility would have no staff onsite.

“I would feel 1,000% better if they just had someone onsite to monitor things,” Pauline, an Ayer resident who did not provide her last name, said during the Jan. 18 Zoom meeting. “We don’t have the ability to require that, I believe, but if we did, I’d say that’s worth exploring.”

Cheryl Boissy, another resident, referenced a propane-related accident that took place in Tewksbury back in 1972, when a truck backed into a tank and sparked a massive explosion that left 40 injured.

“It’s left me with a lot of trauma around any propane,” she said.

Unlike Lorden Oil Co. Inc., another fuel distributor located in Ayer, Energy North Group would only store the fuels onsite. The only persons on the property would be those delivering the propane to the facility and the drivers of fuel delivery trucks that would deliver fuel to customers.

The propane would primarily be stored in two, 30,000-gallon tanks that stand 11 feet tall, as well as several other, smaller tanks. The methanol would be stored in separate storage drums, according to the proposal.

Another point of emphasis from residents was traffic along Groton-Shirley Road. Transport trucks are specifically directed not to use the street, but residents questioned who exactly would enforce that restriction.

“How will the town regulate or monitor the truck traffic using Groton-Shirley Road?” Pauline said. “A sign is fine, but a sign doesn’t stop a truck.”

Those representing Energy North Group, as well as many of the town’s representatives, did their best to assuage fears around the proposed facility.

“We’re not in the ’70s anymore as far as technology and safety in the propane industry,” said Jody Ameden, an energy consultant speaking for Energy North Group. “The technology has changed our industry and made it so much safer.”

“I understand the hesitation,” said Select Board Vice Chair Scott Houde, “but I think, with the way the propane industry is now, the safeties in place and the fire department we have, I think we’re in good hands.”

“We’re definitely trained to take care of these potential incidents,” said Fire Chief Tim Johnston. “Any questions or concerns we had were answered by Energy North (Group) in a timely manner.”

When questioned on the proposed location relative to residential housing and other community spaces, Chris Tymula, a project manager with Greenman-Pedersen Inc., said, “We’ve done our due diligence notifying the appropriate residents.”

Planning Board member Geoffrey Tillotson said Energy North Group did “a very good job” in their application process and addressed many concerns brought forth by residents located near the proposed facility.

As for traffic regulation, Town Manager Robert Pontbriand attributed responsibility to the Ayer Police Department.

Houde noted that the town “needed to step up” enforcement of certain road regulations.

“The enforcement agent would be the Ayer Police Department,” Pontbriand said, “and I’ll make sure to speak to Chief Gill about the enforcement.”

There was one source of confusion for the Select Board: the facility’s address. The application submitted to the Select Board made reference to “97 Fitchburg Road,” while the Planning Board approved plans for a “99 Fitchburg Road.”

Jannice Livingston, the Select Board Clerk, motioned to continue the public hearing and address the issue at the Select Board’s next meeting on Feb. 1. In the absence of Select Board Chair Shaun Copeland, she and Houde voted 2-0 to do so.