Experts spar over quarry noise

MOUNT DESERT — One might be forgiven for thinking the classic book “The Sound and the Fury” is about the incensed objections of Hall Quarry residents to the sounds of drilling and sawing at a nearby granite quarry.

Not for the first time, several of them vented their anger and frustration over the noise at the Jan. 26 continuation of the Planning Board’s public hearing on whether quarrying should be allowed to resume.

Harold MacQuinn Inc., which owns the Hall Quarry property, and Freshwater Stone, which leases and operates the quarry, applied to the town for a quarrying license in 2014 after voters adopted an ordinance requiring quarries to be licensed.

The Planning Board’s public hearing on the application has been going on, with several lengthy interruptions, for more than a year. The Jan. 26 session was the first one to focus exclusively on the issue of noise, which is the principal objection of nearby residents.

Planning Board Chairman Bill Hanley said that, at the end of the session, “The board decided the applicant hadn’t provided enough data relative to the measuring of sound levels at the lot lines. So, we asked them to provide more information about that, based upon the equipment they’re using.”

No deadline was set for submitting that information, and the next session of the public hearing has not yet been scheduled.

The Jan. 26 session of the public hearing featured disagreements between attorneys and noise control experts hired by the license applicants and neighboring property owners over what the town’s quarrying ordinance requires in terms of limiting the amount of noise.

The noise control section of the ordinance states that quarry operators shall use the “best industry practices for noise attenuation to the extent permitted by state and federal laws and regulations.”

Ed Bearor, the attorney representing MacQuinn and Freshwater, said that means they don’t have to meet standards set by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) or any other government agency.

“We’re not required to meet a particular decibel level or to do anything in particular,” Bearor said. “We’re just supposed to use best management practices to attenuate – not to eliminate, but to attenuate – the noise. I think you will find that we have done that.”

But Dan Pileggi, the attorney hired by two couples who live near the quarry site, offered a different interpretation. He said the reference to state and federal laws and regulations means the town can adopt those as its noise control standards. And he said the quarry license application fails to address the need to comply with any measureable noise standards.

“The applicants, the people with the burden of proof here, did no measurements; they did no modeling,” Pileggi said. “They haven’t produced any quantitative information about the measurements of sound from any of the pieces of equipment.”

Charles Wallace, a sound control specialist based in Brunswick, is working for the neighbors who oppose the granting of a license to quarry. During three days last August when the quarry was in operation, he set up equipment on abutting properties to measure the level of sound. Those levels were within the Maine DEP’s standards, according to Bearor.

“So, even if we were subject to state standards, those standards have been met,” he said.

But Pileggi argued that, because Wallace wasn’t allowed to be in the quarry and observe its operations, they couldn’t be sure the sound measurements accurately represented the amount of noise generated by all of the quarrying activities.

“We have no idea if they were truly operating the equipment they say they were on those days and, if they were, where they were within the quarry,” Pileggi said.

The quarrying license applicants have hired their own sound control consultant, Eric Reuter of Portsmouth, N.H.

He told the Planning Board that he has made four recommendations to MacQuinn and Freshwater for muffling the quarry noise. One, which he said was actually suggested by the applicants, is to create “portable noise barriers that could be moved around the site and reconfigured as necessary.”

The 10-foot-tall barriers would consist of metal frames stacked with bales of hay. The three-sided barriers would be placed around drilling equipment or other sources of loud noise.

Reuter said the concept was tested at another quarry with good results.

“It worked as well or better, depending on the frequency range, as solid wood barriers would.”

Wallace, the sound consultant for the opponents, asked why the effectiveness of the hay bale system was compared to that of a hard wooden barrier instead of a barrier made of sound-absorbent materials.

Reuter responded that most of the noise that goes from one side of a barrier to the other goes over the top, not through the barrier, so what the barrier is made of makes very little difference.

Still, Wallace was dismissive of the hay bale solution.

“Best management practice means you do the best you can,” he said. “I respectfully disagree with bay hales being the best (Reuter) can do.”

Another of Reuter’s recommendations was to replace the traditional back-up alarms – the beeping sounds – on all of the mobile equipment at the quarry with alarms that make a softer sound.

“The back-up alarm is what people object to the most,” said Paul MacQuinn, president of Harold MacQuinn Inc. “I think the new alarms are going to be the biggest improvement.”

Reuter also recommended replacing the noisy exhaust system on a piece of loading equipment. He said the entire loader has been replaced.

His final recommendation was one that MacQuinn and Freshwater had previously proposed – the construction of earth berms around the top of the quarry to deflect sound.

“Based on the topography of the site and location of the abutters’ homes, these would have some mitigating effect for sound,” he said.

But he also said the effect likely would be “marginal.”

Because of that, he said, “I would be comfortable omitting that from the overall plan.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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