Peaks Island needs fossil fuels just like any other place in Maine. That means No. 2 fuel oil, kerosene and propane, all delivered by truck to homes and businesses. Right now two dealers service the island, splitting the number of households about down the middle. Year-round residents with oil furnaces naturally buy most of the No. 2 and kerosene, while summer people are more likely to need propane for hot water, cooking and small space heaters.

Peaks Island Fuel, one of the two dealers operating on the island, has a small fleet of trucks, three oil tankers plus a propane truck, which it now parks on leased land near the ferry terminal. Fuel oil comes to Peaks by barge in bulk and is offloaded at a dock used for the purpose; propane also arrives by barge, in a company truck driven on and off. The current leased parking lot is adjacent to the ferry terminal and lacks space to turn around the trucks or barriers to collect spilled fuel.

Keith Ivers, owner of Peaks Island Fuel, has developed a plan to move his parking area away from the leased lot to property he is buying about a mile up the island. The new lot he’s proposing is in what is today a residential area, although it lies inside a commercial (“Island Business”) zone. All zoning on Peaks is controlled by the City of Portland because the island is part of the city. The commercial zone, according to the city planning department, is left over from the days when a grocery store and other businesses were located there; today — its zoning unchanged — it lies between a street of summer and year-round homes and a private club.

The new facility, according to plans submitted to the city and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, would be screened from two streets and neighboring houses, get trucks away from the busy street leading to the ferry terminal, and would include a concrete floored-and-diked parking area for his trucks. 

Peaks Island can be a contentious place, and Ivers’s plans have prompted a lively debate, much of it conducted by email between proponents, opponents, the island council and the Portland Planning Department downtown.

‘The questions that the City now has to review are many,” wrote Fred O’Keefe, who lives nearby. “Not the least being, is a fuel truck terminal the proper use of the property according to the current zoning restrictions.  Has the neighborhood so changed over a period of many years that allowing this type of business will be detrimental to its property owners?”   

For his part, Ivers maintains he’s trying to make his operation safer and more efficient. Renting parking space for his trucks, he says, costs him between $800 and $850 monthly in addition to insurance. A proposed Small Business Administration loan to finance his new project depends on its being located at his residence, which is next door to the planned parking area. While some have described his plan as a “terminal,” Ivers contends it’s simply a truck parking area that is designed to protect against spills and meet state requirements. Recently he revised his plan to increase the amount of screening and eliminate an entrance on Trefethen Ave. (the road leading to the Trefethen and Evergreen Improvement Association — TEIA — the club next door to Ivers’s property).

Public meetings, including one held under the auspices of the Peaks Island Council, have been raucous affairs. Opponents have accused Ivers of evading their questions and being less than forthright; he and his supporters argue he’s simply an island businessman trying to solve a problem. Ivers himself says he’s felt intimidated at times, but that he believes most islanders (including loyal customers) support him. At Portland City Hall in early August, the stack of printed emails concerning Ivers’s plan was nearly an inch thick and growing; by one estimate about 90 people had expressed their opinions (for and against) and the comments were still coming in.

Beyond the city’s interpretation of its zoning map for Peaks, concerns include competition (Ivers’s supporters fear he’ll go out of business, leaving only one dealer on the island); safety (the current leased area is next to a busy, sloping street leading to the ferry terminal, and Ivers worries about trucks sliding in the winter); the risk of spills (there’s no containment where the trucks are today; but fear of spills at the new location); and traffic. Opponents contend traffic will increase near the new parking area; Ivers says it will stay the same. Finally, some have worried about property values in an area where they have risen in recent years.

By strict count the emails were running in Ivers’s favor; a great many customers and others had expressed their support for his plan. But planning department officials cautioned that some of the negative writers were speaking for others, and that sentiment was probably split fairly evenly.

Two steps remain in the process: first, the state Department of Environmental Protection must approve his spill plan (as of mid-August it had asked for some changes), and then the Portland planning department can approve or disapprove. If the outcome isn’t satisfactory to Ivers or the opposition, the decision may be appealed to the city planning board.

David Platt is former editor of The Working Waterfront.