Addressing community concerns about plant expansion

December 9, 2016 By    


On a recent Saturday morning, I received a call from a frustrated marketer who had run into community opposition to his expanded storage plans. He was looking to hire an advocate who would calm the crowd of protesters whom he claimed carried torches and pitchforks to the community hearing.

“Not in my backyard” is the constituent and political cry heard across the country as propane marketers endeavor to expand storage infrastructure to accommodate growth and prevent runouts in times of short supply.

I understood his concerns well, as I have encountered clients with similar issues. One client requested a letter confirming compliance of a proposed facility, fire safety analysis and safety features designed into the system. I sent the letter and the client received approval.

In another situation, a marketer client wanted to sell, and the state was taking his homestead plant to widen the highway. The challenge was finding a township where they would accept a plant on the highway as opposed to sticking it in some commercial business park out of sight, out of mind. I found a piece of land two towns north with a great northern exposure for tank signage. At the town meeting, we had more safety experts than board members. They needed the business tax revenue, and it was approved. Today it stands as a state-of-the-art plant, safely positioned off a major highway.

Things don’t always go that smoothly. One marketer friend shared a story of what he deemed to be “Hell on Earth,” as he endeavored to achieve approval to build a storage facility. Apparently size does matter. In the course of getting community approval for storage, the larger the facility the greater the community opposition can be.

Another problem is government entities vying for jurisdiction and compliance revenue in contrast to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) compliance requirements. The Environmental Protection Agency has gotten involved with situations out of its element and jurisdiction. Political suave and negotiation skills are required to traverse the jurisdictional landscape.

What I hear most often from marketers after expansion attempts is, “If I knew then what I know now, I’d handle things differently, avoiding wasted time and resources.” So what is the answer to achieving expanded storage and plant facilities to accommodate growth and customer demand?

Understand the local political landscape before attempting to move boldly ahead. There are rocks in those waters, and upfront preparation can avoid having them tear a hole in your boat.

Consider locations where other facilities are already located and possibly more open to development.

Rely on NFPA code compliance, fire safety analysis, environmental studies, Propane Education & Research Council material and any other information that accurately explains the safety features designed into a propane system.

If and when you encounter constituent or authority having jurisdiction opposition, be prepared to calmly share information that will keep them abreast of the safety features in propane systems. Keep your cool when others are hot.

I see two scenarios related to community opposition to plants and storage expansion. The first is a plant located originally outside a town where the town grew around it. You have a housing development, school or hospital built on nearby land, and someone eventually complains about the propane plant. This is when plant code compliance and being a good neighbor become critical because you don’t give them the excuse to force a move. The second scenario is a new location within code guidelines, with regard to distance from other buildings, yet it’s seen as an implied safety threat.

In both cases, upfront preparation for the jurisdictional activist sparring is highly recommended. Keep in mind that safety is on the mind of those opposed to propane in their community. That is why the work you do in the community as an active civic leader and supporter of community causes will go a long way toward achieving expansion goals.

Focus on ways to sell and placate community concerns on propane safety. It’s the pathway to achieve expansion goals, as well as profitable growth.

Jay Johnston is an insurance executive, safety management consultant and inspirational speaker in the propane industry. He can be reached at or 612-802-0663.

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