Providence City Council backs propane gas ban amid contested ProvPort expansion project

THE PROVIDENCE CITY COUNCIL gave first passage Thursday to an ordinance to ban bulk storage of liquid propane gas citywide. /PBN FILE PHOTO/CHRIS BERGENHEIM

PROVIDENCE – Bulk storage of liquid propane gas may soon be banned citywide amid efforts to expand industrial uses around the city’s port.

The City Council on Thursday gave the first approval to an ordinance to ban storage of the substance. The unanimous vote, made without discussion, is the first of two needed for the change to take effect.

The decision comes amid heightened scrutiny over the health, safety and environmental consequences of heavy industrial uses associated with ProvPort, including a contested proposal by a portside company to add more propane storage to its existing operations.

Sea 3 Providence LLC in March filed its petition for a declaratory order with the R.I. Energy Facility Siting Board for a  $20 million expansion that would add 540,000 gallons worth of storage tanks to its property.

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It’s unlikely a citywide ban can deter this project, since the application has already been filed with state energy regulators and with the city, which has authority over the design plans. But the ordinance change can stop other companies from setting up similar operations within city limits.

Council President Pro Tempore Pedro Espinal, who sponsored the legislation, has been an outspoken critic of several projects and industrial uses associated with ProvPort, both for their environmental ramifications and health and safety for the surrounding community, which is predominantly made up of residents with low incomes and people of color.

“Residents of South Providence have historically been ignored and underrepresented in the decision-making process surrounding the most intensive and industrial land uses in the state,” Espinal said in a statement. “We as a community have come together as one voice to clearly state that we do not support any expansion or development in the Port of Providence that may lead to increased safety risks for local residents.”

The council in a separate, unanimous decision on Thursday also approved a resolution urging energy regulators to deny Sea 3’s petition, which allows them to circumvent the typical review and decision process – including public comments – before moving ahead with the expansion. The Energy Facility Siting Board is slated to resume hearings on the request in January, with opportunity for the city of Providence to provide additional comment. 

Even if the energy board denies the petition, Sea 3 can still submit a full application for further consideration.

The City Council will vote for a second time on the propane gas ban in January, according to a release.

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