AUGUSTA — City councilors on Thursday will consider spending up to $25,000 to hire an independent expert to study the impact of blasting on the Grandview neighborhood, an issue that has dragged on for more than a decade.
Last week, councilors discussed a proposal to hire a professional mediator to work with pit owner Steve McGee, of West Gardiner-based McGee Construction, and residents of the nearby Grandview neighborhood, which abuts the pit, to seek a resolution to the ongoing dispute. However, both McGee and a neighbor of the pit expressed doubts that mediation would be effective. So councilors dropped the proposal.
Instead, they will consider hiring a Freeport-based engineering firm to analyze findings and claims made previously by a blasting company representative that blasts at the McGee-owned pit are safe and do not cause damage to area homes. The independent engineering firm, Golder Associates, could either verify those statements, made by Ken Smith, technical supervisor for Gardiner-based Maine Drilling and Blasting, which does the blasting in McGee’s pit; or cast doubts upon them. Then the firm could recommend changes to the city ordinance if needed, City Manager William Bridgeo said Tuesday.
For years, neighbors of the pit have complained about dust and noise coming from work there, and said blasts to free up rock damage their homes, leaving large cracks in their foundations, have reduced their property values and made it hard for them to enjoy their lives at home.
Neighborhood resident Lou Craig told councilors last week he thinks the city also should consider hiring a psychologist to talk about the effect the blasting has had on those who live in the neighborhood.
“It definitely has a psychological impact on the neighborhood. It has so many adverse impacts on our lives,” said Craig, who previously has shown councilors photographs of large, horizontal cracks in his home’s foundation he believes were caused by blasting. “I’ve got a lot of damage to my home, in all kinds of different areas. I don’t want any blasting, to be honest. I want it to end. (McGee) will survive. He’ll be able to get plenty of aggregate.”
McGee has said changes proposed by councilors earlier this year in response to neighbors’ concerns, which would have reduced the city’s standards for allowable blast sizes to just 15 percent of current standards, and another proposal to reduce the number of allowed blasts by about half, would have forced him to close that part of his business.
He told councilors last week both the now-rejected idea of mediation and the proposed $25,000 engineering study are unnecessary. He said he anticipates the study will confirm the conclusions Smith already presented to councilors.
“I’m trying to work as a good neighbor,” McGee said, saying his own analysis of property values in the Grandview neighborhood indicated they were not lower than elsewhere in the city. “I know the city has put an exorbitant amount of time into this.”
Ward 1 City Councilor Linda Conti said in order to address the blasting issues, the city needs information from an independent expert, not from a blaster or a neighbor.
Bridgeo said the up to $25,000 needed to pay for the study, if councilors vote to do so Thursday, would come from the city’s fund balance account, an account generally made up of funds unspent in previous years.
Councilors are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the council chamber at Augusta City Center. Councilors also are scheduled to:
• Consider accepting $20,000 in grant funding from the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety for speed limit enforcement and to buy new radar for city police,
• Consider accepting $6,000 from the state Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife for enforcement of all-terrain vehicle use laws, and
• Declare the downtown area to be in a state of “slum and blight” in order to continue to be eligible for state and federal grants to make infrastructure improvements there.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647