Shirking responsibility

To the Editor:

On Jan. 7 at 5 p.m., the Mount Desert Planning Board will once again meet to continue the review of the quarrying license application of Harold MacQuinn Inc.

Meanwhile, the “grand larceny” (see Dec. 10 letters) in Mount Desert continues with the resumption of unlicensed quarry activities. Residents should be aware of the illogical actions of the Planning Board as they stand by and do nothing. This inaction is clearly in violation of the Land Use Zoning Ordinance (LUZO).

According to the Maine Municipal Association, the town meeting-selectman form of government has endured for more than 300 years. It often has been called the purest form of democracy. The town meeting performs the legislative function of local government, and each voting citizen may directly participate in this “peoples’ assembly.”

The town meeting provides citizens an opportunity to participate directly in governing their community. The residents of a town truly become citizen legislators by attending town meeting, during which they may pass laws needed for orderly governance.

In July of 2013, voters approved the quarrying license ordinance at a special town meeting. This ordinance provides for the orderly governance and regulation of pre-existing active quarries which are able to meet strict definitions outlined in the ordinance. The applicant bears the burden to prove, beyond a doubt, that the quarry has been active without a break of more than 12 months during its history.

At the start of the quarrying license application review, the Planning Board tentatively gave a preliminary “grandfathering” determination to the MacQuinn quarry by granting the benefit of the doubt to MacQuinn when documents he presented did not definitively prove there was no 12-month gap in quarrying in the past.

Abutting residents say otherwise. This part of the application review is not set in stone and can be altered by the Planning Board when they finally allow public comment on this issue at the end of the application review process.

When the chair of the Planning Board was asked directly at the last public hearing about the current quarrying, the members of the public were told, through the Planning Board attorney, that the Planning Board’s job was not enforcement. The public was told that enforcement is the code enforcement officer’s job.

When the CEO was later asked in writing if the quarrying activity would be stopped, the response was, after consultation with town’s attorneys and the Planning Board attorney, that there would be no enforcement actions against Gammelin of Freshwater Stone or MacQuinn, the property owner, for operating the quarry without a license.

The next logical question was: If no license has been issued under the quarrying license ordinance, then what ordinance, regulations and restrictions are being applied by the CEO to this unlicensed quarrying? The response from the CEO’s office was that private legal counsel should be consulted in order to get more specific answers than the CEO is able to provide.

Can it be true that in a town meeting-selectman form of government, a tax-paying resident has to pay for a private lawyer in order to get an answer about which regulations and town ordinances apply to certain activities (such as quarrying)?

The CEO’s advice was to read the LUZO (which has no noise ordinance) for the R2 zoning district in which the quarry is located and to inform the CEO if anything was found that raised a concern. The advice went further and stated that there may be state and/or federal laws and regulations that may be applicable. But the CEO could not tell me what those would be.

MacQuinn’s quarry is on private property on a private road. No resident of Mount Desert can directly observe what is going on there. We must sit by and endure the ear-splitting noises and have the quarrying disturb our ability to live normal lives. The CEO is the only one who legally can go on that property and inform residents if there is an enforcement action, not the other way around!

Section 1.4 of the LUZO informs us that its purpose is “to safeguard the comfort, convenience, safety, health, and welfare of the people; to preserve the Town’s cultural and aesthetic resources; to protect the environment; and to promote the development of an economically sound and stable community.”

Section 1.5 assures us that the LUZO’s intent is “to be in accord with the expressed desires of the residents of the Town.” We are further educated by the LUZO’s wording that the responsibility for the maintenance and enforcement of the LUZO is entrusted to the Planning Board, code enforcement officer, Board of Appeals and selectmen. It is also the intent of the LUZO to regulate the use of all lands … in ways which avoid public disadvantage and protect and enhance existing public and private property and the value inherent therein… .

The Planning Board and CEO are shirking their responsibilities with regard to the MacQuinn/Freshwater Stone quarry, and they appear to be in violation of the spirit and intent of the LUZO. Suggesting that residents hire private legal counsel in order to get answers about what is appropriate according to Mount Desert ordinances is ludicrous. Our taxes are paying for a professional CEO and staff to enforce ordinances and know what actions require enforcement.

The LUZO clearly states that the Planning Board’s responsibility extends to enforcement. Members should consult the LUZO as the CEO has suggested to those of us who question the quarry’s right to conduct operations without a license and without any restrictions on the noise it can inflict on the residents as well as the visitors and wildlife in nearby Acadia National Park.

Janet Leston Clifford

Hall Quarry

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