MOUNT DESERT — As public hearings focused on noise impacts of a proposed stone quarrying operation in the village of Hall Quarry continue, the Planning Board is working to clarify the basis on which they’ll make their eventual decision.
No quantitative measure of sound levels is included in the Quarrying Licensing Ordinance the board must use to decide whether to approve Freshwater Stone’s application to resume operations at the granite quarry it leases from Harold MacQuinn, Inc. Instead, the ordinance requires that an operator employ “the best practicable means of reducing noise.”
At a public hearing Nov. 6, which lasted more than three hours and is set to continue next Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 6 p.m., several board members noted that “best practicable means” is a moving target.
“I feel completely lost as to what the town can do,” board member Meredith Randolph said.
She asked whether the application could be tabled until after the town adopts a specific noise ordinance, such as the one Bar Harbor has, which could set a quantitative standard for acceptable noise levels.
James Collier, the board’s attorney, said no, it couldn’t be tabled. He also said the board has “wide latitude” to impose conditions on any approval that could help address the concerns of the neighbors.
“You have to decide as a board what’s reasonable,” Collier said.
Freshwater worked the quarry from 2010 until 2016, when the town’s code enforcement officer issued a stop work order. In 2014, Freshwater and MacQuinn applied for a license to extract stone under the quarrying ordinance that the town’s voters had adopted the previous year.
Joseph Smullen, a noise and vibration control engineer hired by Freshwater, explained the quarry’s planned noise mitigation techniques and tests he had done with them.
“Residences are going to have noise,” Smullen said in response to a question from resident Howard Colter. “Can it be made acceptable for a lot of people? I think it can be.”
Charles Wallace, an environmental engineer representing families who live near the quarry, presented an acoustic model of overall noise levels based on several pieces of equipment operating at once at various locations in the quarry.
Each expert made a presentation and then responded to questions from the public and a cross-examination from an opposing attorney. The board and the audience listened to detailed explanations of the physics of sound.
Dan Pileggi, an attorney representing the two couples who live nearest the quarry, said that according to the model developed by Wallace, noise levels at the neighbors’ property lines could regularly reach levels at which hearing protection is recommended.
“They [the applicants] can model this for you,” he said, “and they should. You should hold them to that standard.”
Wallace suggested the board use a standard of maximum allowable noise that’s 10 decibels higher than “pre-development ambient” noise in the area.
Asked by board member David Ashmore whether it would be possible to operate the quarry and stay within that limit, Wallace said “my model suggests that they couldn’t.”
After Pileggi made reference to an “ungodly amount of money” spent by his clients to hire Wallace to prepare the sound model, attorney Frank McGuire, who represents the applicants, asked Wallace what that cost had been.
The question raised some objections, so McGuire explained his reasoning.
“There’s a difference between best practicable means to reduce sound and best possible means to model acoustics,” he said. These are “attempts to crush this application by cost, and therefore cost is a factor.”
Ashmore asked whether it would be possible to have audio or video monitoring of the quarry operations.
In the past, he said, there have been “complaints about noise they were getting blamed for, and Jeff [Gammelin, Freshwater Stone’s owner] was saying they weren’t even there” on the days in question.
The audio or video feed could be available to the town, so Code Enforcement Officer Kim Keene could verify what work was happening when.