Storage permit is surrendered, but issues linger
The owners of an ink and paint factory in Danversport that exploded last November have given up a license to store chemicals there, but a public hearing on Tuesday to possibly revoke the license will go forward, town officials said.
The hearing before the Board of Selectmen is expected to be short and uncomplicated. "They're surrendering their license," Town Manager Wayne P. Marquis said. "We do not plan to hold an evidentiary hearing, with detailed presentations."
W. Paul Needham, a Boston lawyer for CAI, declined to comment on behalf of the company. Thomas J. Flannagan, a Danvers lawyer representing Arnel, could not be reached for comment.
The two companies that shared the factory on the Waters River, CAI Inc. of Georgetown and Arnel Co. of Danvers, have sent separate letters to the town stating their intent to give up their flammable storage license.
They do not admit any liability for the Nov. 22 blast, which damaged 70 homes or businesses in the surrounding Danversport neighborhood. State and federal investigators say the explosion was probably caused when chemical vapors ignited with an unknown source inside the plant.
At least one resident still would like the board to consider revoking the license, which allowed the companies to store 10,500 gallons of chemicals on the site, which covers less than an acre. The property is in the midst of an environmental clean up.
"It's in their power to revoke this license forever," said Andrea Daley, who said her family home on Riverside Street was so badly damaged by the blast that it must be torn down. "That should be on the table to be discussed."
Marquis said a formal vote to revoke the license could be moot. "I can't comment on whether the Board of Selectmen might vote to revoke or not," he said. "But once a license has been given up, it's gone."
Under state law, flammable storage licenses are granted to a property's owner, not a business using the site. In Danversport, a succession of owners have held the license to store chemicals on the site since 1944. Realty trusts controlled by the companies each own 50 percent of the license.
Once a license is granted, it is automatically renewed when the holder pays an annual fee.
A public hearing is not required for the registration. CAI and Arnel paid the $150 annual fee in May, according to the town.
The renewal stunned residents, who urged the selectmen to hold the hearing. CAI and Arnel responded by notifying the town that they would be giving up the shared license.
"Arnel wishes to diffuse any controversy over the renewal of the subject license by voluntarily relinquishing its right under that license," a lawyer for Arnel wrote.
Arnel, which made ink that is printed on plastic shopping bags, has since gone out of business. CAI, which makes industrial paint and coatings, continues to operate from its Georgetown headquarters.
In its letter, CAI wrote, " Voluntarily withdrawing the renewal of the registration is the best course of action for the community as a whole."
Some local residents agreed. "Obviously, they appreciated our position," said Ed Sanborn, 42, an organizer of Safe Area for Everyone, a neighborhood group that formed after the blast. "Our neighborhood wasn't the place for that plant."
"It's a good move," said David Marcou, 34, who recently started rebuilding his Bates Street home, which abutted the now-razed factory.
CAI cited an intense public debate at a selectman's meeting last month, when residents urged the board to take action.
In its letter, the company questioned whether it would be treated fairly. "Several of these speakers appear to have personally adjudicated the matter based on preliminary reports and without any evidentiary input, which leads the company to the conclusion that the likelihood of an impartial hearing, which focuses on the merits, has been compromised," the letter states.
The Board of Selectmen's chairman, Michael Powers, disputed the company's assertion. "A number of people were deeply concerned about the renewal," he said.
"But I tried to tell them that while we understood their sentiments, we had to act in accordance with the law."
He said the board will follow the law on Tuesday.
"The hearing will be as fair as possible," Powers said. "We'll read those letters into the record. We will take them at face value."
Kathy McCabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org