Quarry application hits another snag

MOUNT DESERT — Consideration of an application for a license to quarry granite in the village of Hall Quarry failed to advance after more than four hours of testimony before the Planning Board here Tuesday.

The licensing process, which has been marked by delays and acrimony between neighbors and applicant Jeff Gammelin of Freshwater Stone and landowner Harold MacQuinn Inc., began nearly two years ago.

In September, the town issued the operators a stop-work order, which is pending appeal.

At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, with 40 residents who live in the vicinity of the quarry in attendance, the Planning Board resumed deliberation on the completeness of Gammelin and MacQuinn’s application that had begun in January of 2015. Board Chairman Bill Hanley said that the board was not trying to rush the process. “We’re not going to jam everything into the meeting tonight,” he said. “I anticipate we’re probably going to have another meeting.”

Board members and attorneys, Edmond Bearor for the applicant and Daniel Pileggi for the abutters, agreed to try and get through the contentious issue of noise abatement.

Bearor noted that there were no specific limits to noise contained in the town’s quarrying ordinance. “There’s no decibel, no quantifiable limit we need to meet,” he said. He added that the applicant only needs to outline practical steps to mitigate the noise of the heavy equipment, compressors, drills, wire saws and vehicles used at the site.

Testifying for the applicant, noise expert Eric Ruder explained that the replacement of a loader with one with a quieter motor, and the installation of a quieter muffler on another vehicle, had helped reduce noise. Ruder proposed using stacked bales of hay around noisy gear to absorb some of the sound. That, he noted, would reduce sound levels on surrounding properties. He presented his findings based on three days of testing at the site.

He also recommended the use of different backup alarms, which are required on construction vehicles by federal law.

Gammelin chimed in that his company had purchased a wire saw that “is significantly quieter than drilling.”

Neighbor Gerald Shencavitz interjected that the saw was equally disruptive. “We hear it all the time.”

Later, Ruder said that in addition to effectiveness, the economic impact of various noise control devices also needs to be considered.

Shencavitz’s attorney Pileggi introduce his own sound expert, Charles Wallace. Pileggi claimed that Ruder’s methods were incomplete and that only one abatement option was proposed. “There are no indications about what are the best industry practices,” he said. “There is nothing to attenuate low frequency noise. Hay bales aren’t going to do a darn thing.”

Wallace suggested that lead-filled vinyl curtains, hung on racks around noise-producing equipment, would be an effective way to cut down on noise.

Wallace said there were not enough details in Ruder’s presentation to see how calculations were done. The standard the applicant needs to meet is qualitative, not quantitative, Wallace explained. “We are talking about protecting human life, and welfare and ensuring quality of life,” he said.

He also noted that Ruder’s abatement suggestions did not address the noise made by metal-tracked equipment moving across the granite bedrock. “That is one of the biggest sources of noise,” he said.

In summarizing, he told the board “you simply don’t have enough information to make a decision.”

During the public comment period, speakers noted that the frequency of noise events at the quarry, as well as the volume, and the vibrations in the ground from heavy blocks of stone being moved and dropped, also were disruptive.

Neighbor Peter Aylen said, “It’s not always something you only hear, it’s something you feel in your feet,” he said.

After a break in the hearing, Bearor said he had conferred with his clients and that they were amenable to adopting the lead-filled curtain method of noise abatement as a condition of the license.

Neighbor Charlotte Singleton asked how many days on an annual basis that the operators planned to work in the quarry.

“That depends on the needs and the markets,” Gammelin said. “We don’t want to tie our hands, to be pinned down legally.”

Gammelin added that he had repeatedly reached out to the neighbors, but his gestures had been rebuffed. Several neighbors took issue with that statement. “That’s not true,” one yelled.

One neighbor, Chris Walls, suggested a large structure be built on the one-acre site to contain the noise.

Pileggi then urged the board to reject the application outright as “woefully inadequate.”

Bearor countered that the ordinance itself lacks sufficient specifics to guide applicants as to what is and is not acceptable. “The Supreme Court says if you can’t define it, you can’t regulate it,” he said.

The town’s attorney, James Collier, responded that “it is a subjective, not an objective standard.” As board member Dennis Kiley sought a way to move the application forward, Collier warned them it was not their job to suggest including information not in evidence. “This is not a board of mediation,” he said.

Board Chairman Hanley suggested some kind of site visit with a noise test might be a good idea to give board members an idea of how loud various decibel levels are. “How are we going to do that when we have a stop-work order?” responded Paul MacQuinn.

Eventually, the board began to discuss having the applicant come back with more options for noise control and a better idea of what constitutes best practices in the quarry industry. The board also wanted their own expert to help it interpret the submissions. “That,” Collier noted, “would be paid for by the applicant.”

At that point, Bearor said that before incurring additional expense, his client would like to have the board address the background issue as to whether or not the quarry operation is grandfathered. The board voted 3-2 in Sept. 2014 that it was but did not hold a public hearing or accept testimony from opponents who argue the property was dormant for much of the last 20 years. The issue was slated to be discussed later in the process, Hanley explained.

Without a determination that quarrying had continued for years at the site, the former use would be determined to have expired, and Gammelin and MacQuinn would have no standing to file a license application. The town’s quarrying ordinance prohibits new quarries in residential areas such as Hall Quarry.

Collier stressed that action concerning grandfathering was a jurisdictional, not deliberative matter and not subject to public input. “It may be painful for people in the audience to hear that, but it’s the law,” he said.

Both sides, however, repeated that they supported settling the grandfathering issue before spending any more time and money on arguing the merits of the application. Without a formal vote by the full board on the grandfather status, no appeal can be filed to the Appeals Board or subsequently to the Maine Courts.

Shortly before 10 p.m., the board agreed to adjourn to a date to be determined and to ask the applicant to come back with more noise control options and to work with the neighbors’ attorney to find an expert to advise the board.

Earl Brechlin

Earl Brechlin

Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander editor Earl Brechlin first discovered Mount Desert Island 35 years ago and never left. The author of seven guide and casual history books, he is a Registered Maine Guide and has served as president of the Maine and New England Press Associations. He and his wife live in Bar Harbor.
Earl Brechlin

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