AUGUSTA — City councilors and neighbors, including hospital officials, of a Civic Center Drive concrete plant seeking a zone change so it can blast rock, expressed concern about the effect of the potentially earth-shaking plan.

Auburn Concrete, which built a concrete plant in a former quarry just off Civic Center Drive in 2011, across from the Central Maine Commerce Center, is seeking a zone change to allow it to seek a mineral extraction permit from the city.

Joel Cummings, an owner of the company, said the company wants to blast rock at the site to level the area to make more space and, at the same time, produce aggregate from the rock to make concrete.

He told city councilors Thursday the company sees an opportunity in making concrete bridges used in the logging industry, but it doesn’t have space to make the up-to-80-foot-long stressed concrete beams in its confined space.

The site’s closest neighbor would be directly across Civic Center Drive from the site, a MaineGeneral Medical Center building the hospital leases from the Central Maine Commerce Center. Commerce center officials and other neighbors spoke against the proposal Thursday.

“We’ve got about $15 million in real estate right across the road,” said William Dowling, representing Central Maine Commerce Center. “Our concern is about he structural integrity of those two buildings.

We look at our buildings as eggs, and we don’t want those eggs cracked or broken. I’m sorry to have to stand here and not support a business, but fear if we don’t protect our business, nobody else will. I like money as much as they do, I don’t want them to make money at our expense.”

Paul Stein, chief operating officer of MaineGeneral, also said he was “very concerned” about the project, not just about its impact on the medical building in the commerce center, but also on the new $312 million regional hospital MaineGeneral is building in the area, off Old Belgrade Road.

Property owners who don’t count their holdings by the millions of dollars also expressed concern.

Joe Healy, who lives about 1,000 feet away on Old Belgrade Road, said when blasting took place to establish the concrrete plant site, the noise from blasting and equipment on the site made it impossible for him to enjoy his backyard.

He said he both called Auburn Concrete and visited the site to complain, but no one returned his calls or would speak to him at the property.

“These people think about one thing — filling their back pockets,” Healy said. “What’s the point of zoning if you’re just going to have a bunch of people get together and change it?”

Cummings, however, said the company was not aware of any complaints about the temporary blasting they did to make room for their initial site, and city officials agreed, at a previous meeting, that the city had not received any complaints about the previous blasting.

At least one area resident, Paul Doyon, said he supported allowing the zone change and proposed blasting.

“They’re going to tailor their explosions and operatins to meet the surrounding community’s needs,” said Doyon, who lives roughly a mile away. “To be business-friendly, we should just find a way to get along.”

Ken Smith, technical supervisor for Maine Drilling and Blasting, the company that would do the blasting for the project, said they would do pre-blast inspections of area structures, and the blast would be designed so it would not damage structures or exceed the city’s allowed limits.

The company’s plan, Cummings said, would be to blast rock from the quarry to create space — as well as enough raw materials to make the bridge sections for three to five years. After that occurs, and the blasting has brought much of the land involved down to near road level, the company would hope to sell or develop the land it anticipates would be desirable.

Cumming said the company has no desire to upset neighbors.

Councilors expressed doubt the proposal would be able to fit in with its neighbors, but encouraged company officials to try to talk to their neighbors about their proposal anyway, to see whether they could appease their concerns and come to an agreement.

“If neighbors won’t support it, I don’t see how we can,” Councilor David Rollins said.

However, Councilor Michael Byron said he would sponsor an agenda item on an upcoming business meeting to consider sending the issue to the Planning Board for a recommendation. The council, city attorney Stephen Langsdorf said, would have the final say on any zone change.

“Whether this things turns out badly or not, I don’t know; but this is due process,” Byron said of sending it to the Planning Board to consider. “The only fair thing to do is let it go through the due process and see what comes out.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]