AUGUSTA — City officials are considering lowering the standards for allowable blasts in quarries to just 15 percent of what is allowed now.

The proposal, which city councilors plan to hold a public hearing on Thursday, comes in response both to ongoing complaints from residents of the Grandview neighborhood and a city official describing a blast he observed from inside a home in the neighborhood as startling and alarming. The Grandview neighborhood is next to a McGee Construction-owned pit and quarry operation that blasts rock up to 10 times a year off West River Road.

Matt Nazar, the city’s development director, has attended roughly 40 blasts at quarry operations, mostly in the McGee pit, over the last 10 years. For a recent blast, Nazar was inside the home of Grandview resident Roland Maheux, and he said the blast was “startling,” and felt much more significant than blasts of similar size he observed outside.

“The blast inside the home was dramatic. You certainly felt it rather significantly,” Nazar told city councilors when the issue was discussed last week. “And it was startling, I’d have to say, on my part, as compared to being outside. If you’re standing outside, it’s a rumble that goes through. It doesn’t seem like nearly as big a deal as it was inside the home on this one.”

Also, Nazar noted, that blast and the other blasts he’s observed at the West River Road pit this year were well below allowable standards for ground vibration contained in the city’s blasting ordinance. Nazar said data indicated the blast was only 20 to 25 percent of the maximum allowable blast.

So if the city wants to appease neighbors by reducing the blasts’ impact, the city’s allowable standards would have to be lowered dramatically. Officials said they are already lower than the standards of the federal Bureau on Mines.

Some city councilors said the city should consider lowering the limit without delay.

“I think this is very serious, when someone from the city has gone in and said this was alarming and upsetting to him to be inside this home when this was happening,” Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said. “I don’t want to put off doing anything to another informational meeting. I think we should move forward with this, put out a proposal and bring it to (a business) meeting.”

Ted Haskell, of Augusta, who works for McGee Construction and has worked with Nazar on blasting issues at the pit but who stressed he is not a blasting expert, said the city should form a working group, including industry experts, neighborhood residents and others. He said an industry expert could present information on the difference between measurements of blasts outside and what is felt inside buildings, and whether buildings are likely to sustain damage from blasts.

Disputes between the pit owner and neighbors about the impact of blasting there go back many years, and the city’s current mining and blasting rules were formed after a lengthy process involving multiple interested parties.

“I’m hoping you don’t rush to judgment on this,” Haskell said. “The history of this blasting and pit ordinance evolved over years, and trying to adjust or modify this in a two-week period without getting together a working group of affected owners, industry experts and the neighborhood, I think, is doing a disservice for everybody that has been involved in this.”

A May 2015 blast prompted a city lawsuit that claimed the blast exceeded allowable standards and sought to revoke McGee’s permit to blast and extract rock and gravel, which it uses in construction projects.

However, the lawsuit was settled in September. McGee agreed to pay the city $10,000. And the city agreed to notify McGee in the event of future suspected blasting problems prior to initiating litigation.

Councilors meet to hold the first of two required readings on the proposed blasting ordinance change at 7 p.m. Thursday in the council chamber at Augusta City Center.

Councilors also are scheduled to consider and take public input on:

• Zoning ordinance changes recommended by the Planning Board to clarify city zoning rules about group homes, homeless shelters and religious institutions. The proposed changes were prompted by the concerns of some city leaders about potential new uses of the St. Mark’s Church property, which includes the former St. Mark’s Home and a parish hall that is home to organizations providing free food, clothing and other essentials to people in need.

• a proposed new yard sale ordinance, limiting the sales to a duration of three days, and to no more than six per year; and

• a “Complete Streets” policy noting the need to meet the needs of all users, not just motorists, of the city’s transportation network.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj