MOUNT DESERT — The long-awaited review of the Planning Board’s granting of grandfathered status to a granite quarry operation in Hall Quarry began at a public hearing last week.
After more than three hours of testimony without getting to the point where the applicant could present their evidence, the board agreed to end the meeting and resume the session on June 13.
“The purpose here tonight is to hear evidence, including public comment, on whether the use is grandfathered,” town attorney James Collier said. He explained that although the board had determined previously the use was pre-existing and could proceed, any issue involving the application can be revisited prior to the final overall vote.
Neighbors who have been fighting the application for several years have complained that they were not allowed to offer testimony when the grandfathering decision was made. The board repeatedly said over the past two years that they would hear from opponents at some point. Those opponents finally had their chance last Thursday evening.
“We’ve kind of been dogged by this question,” said attorney Edmond Bearor, who is representing applicant Freshwater Stone and Brickwork Inc., which is seeking a permit to quarry on land owned by Harold MacQuinn Inc.
“It should have been part of completeness review,” said Bearor. “I don’t think it’s a question that should be revisited. We are at a distinct disadvantage where this was decided more than two years ago.”
For nearly three hours, neighbors, many who had moved to the area and built homes over the last 30 years or so, offered their opinions on whether or not the quarry had been in continuous operation.
For a use to be grandfathered under the ordinance in force up until 2009, it could not cease for a period of more than 18 months. After 2009, that time period was shortened to one year.
Many neighbors have filed repeated noise complaints since Freshwater Stone ramped up removal of the unique pink stone using heavy equipment, large compressors and industrial saws. “This decision affects our lives,” stressed neighbor Carey Kish.
His wife, Fran Leyman, offered that the reason earlier zoning ordinances didn’t regulate quarries was because there weren’t any in regular operation.
“There were many gaps of more than 12 months,” neighbor Peter Aylen said in reference to the documentation MacQuinn and Freshwater had filed to support their grandfathering claim.
Judy Aylen noted that the original board vote to declare the quarry grandfathered had three board members in favor with two abstaining because they wanted more information. “Obviously the board had doubts,” she said.
Neighbor Janet Leston Clifford displayed a graph showing multiple periods of no documented quarrying for longer than 18 months prior to 2009 and for more than 12 months in later years. One gap was 22 months and another 27, she said. “I went through every piece of paper in that binder,” she explained.
Opponents also offered their opinions on whether or not merely picking up loose rocks in the quarry area and selling them elsewhere fit the town’s definition of quarrying or mineral extraction.
Other neighbors challenged flimsy evidence of grandfathering that included someone “remembering” to have bought some stone or moving rocks to another location. Others alleged it appeared that some entries in the ledgers offered as evidence “had been updated retroactively.”
Neighbor Kelly O’Neil said she investigated Mine Data Retrieval records filed by MacQuinn with the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). “I have done an insane amount of research,” she said.
The federal reports contain “data related to accidents, injuries, inspections, violations, assessments and samples, as well as employment and production reports,” an OSHA website states.
The documents inspected by O’Neil note some activity in both Hall Quarry and at an off-island location. From 2003 to 2010, there were no reports filed for Hall Quarry, but there were for the other location, even if that pit was only being worked for a single day, O’Neil noted.
A spokesman for the applicant countered that for some types of activities, no reports are required to be filed.
Resident Bob Clifford noted that many invoices offered as evidence of the sale of granite from Hall quarry merely list “red stone.” The assumption, he said, is that any red stone “must” have come from Hall Quarry. Because MacQuinn sold several varieties of granite from multiple sources, there is no way to know which deposit was the source, he argued.
Over more than a decade, the MacQuinn invoices show the company sold just over $13,000 worth of stone from Hall Quarry. That number seemed low if the quarry was active, neighbors argued, especially in light of the fact that during the boom times in local construction, the quarry saw little activity. But, they said, it was unusual that records for recent years showed a surge was recorded when “the economy went bust.”
Several neighbors also complained to the board that they had not been told by the real estate agents that sold them their land or houses that there was an industrial quarry operation in the area.
After three hours with only opponents testifying, the Planning Board decided to continue the hearing to a date certain. On June 13, the meeting will begin with presentations from the applicant outlining their proposal and information on usage rebutting the opponents.
Before June 13, Freshwater Stone and MacQuinn will be able to submit written testimony. Opponents will be able to view that information and reply.
The final session on June 13, beginning at 6 p.m., will include the board questioning the applicant and then conducting deliberations.
In a statement issued after the meeting last week, Jeff Gammelin, owner of Freshwater Stone and Brickworks, said he thought the session went well. “The Planning Board has given us a fair chance to assess the materials the public presented and to respond at the next meeting,” Gammelin said.
“As evidence was presented, I think it became clear to the public that Hall Quarry is not a moneymaker for either Paul [MacQuinn] or me but rather a shared commitment to preserve the use of a valuable resource for the island of Mount Desert.”