ProvPort propane storage company takes city to court ahead of state hearings

PROVIDENCE – As a portside propane storage company seeks permission from state regulators to expand its operations, it is also suing the city for trying to block its plans. 

Sea 3 Providence LLC on Feb. 4 filed a complaint in Providence County Superior Court against the city of Providence and the Providence City Council, contesting a recently approved city ordinance that bans bulk storage of liquid propane gas. 

The new city ban is unlikely to impact Sea 3’s proposal to add 540,000 gallons worth of storage tanks to its ProvPort property – applications for the expansion were already filed with the R.I. Energy Facility Siting Board and the city prior to the ordinance’s introduction. But the company is asking the court to shoot down the city ordinance anyway, saying it violates the city’s own plans for port development.

Indeed, promoting maritime and industrial uses along the city waterfront was one of several focuses of the city’s comprehensive plan, approved in 2009, which rezoned portions of Allens Avenue along the waterfront for “water dependent industrial uses and to facilitate the renewed use of a vital waterfront for economic growth and expansion,” according to the city planning document.

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Sea 3 in its complaint argues that the ban on liquid propane gas is “inconsistent” with the city’s own planning goals. It also contradicts existing city greenhouse gas reduction goals, since propane is a “cleaner source of fuel compared to home heating oil,” according to the complaint.

The city ordinance does not necessarily stop Sea 3 from expanding its operations, which the R.I. Energy Facility Siting Board is still reviewing, with a hearing scheduled for Feb. 28. The application to state regulators asks for a declaratory order, which would let the company bypass the typical yearlong review and public comment process on its $20 million expansion.

The city ordinance, and the lawsuit, are not part of state regulators’ review, according to Emma Rodvien, coordinator for the board. Instead, the board’s decision focuses on whether the expansion will significantly change the environment, community health, safety or public welfare. 

Even if state regulators grant the application, however, Sea 3 in its lawsuit maintains that the city ordinance would prevent the company from continued upgrades to its facility, while also jeopardizing the supply chain of propane gas.

Sea 3 has asked the Superior Court to declare the city ordinance “illegal, null and void.”

Nicholas Hemond, the attorney representing Sea 3, did not return inquiries for comment. The city declined to comment on the litigation.

Councilman Pedro Espinal, who introduced the ordinance, in an emailed response Thursday said he “will continue to advocate for my neighbors in South Providence when it comes to public health, safety, and the welfare of our community. My constituents deserve to have their voices heard and that principle has guided my efforts in shedding light on these environmental concerns.”

The R.I. Energy Facility Siting Board will hold a hearing on Sea 3’s petition for a declaratory order at 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 28. Public comment will not be accepted at the hearing.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at