AUGUSTA — Disagreement about what questions they’re trying to get answered prompted city councilors to table a proposal to spend up to $25,000 to hire an independent expert to study the effect of commercial blasting on the Grandview neighborhood.
With councilors concerned that they aren’t on the same page with each other on what they want a blasting expert to do, councilors instead plan to meet with the same expert as soon as possible to discuss what the firm could provide to the city.
“I’d suggest rather than authorizing this tonight and signing a $25,000 contract, the content of which already has some differences of opinion as to whether it would be adequate or unnecessary, that we bring the consultant up here and have a dialogue about what do we want and what do we need,” said City Manager William Bridgeo. “There are probably six different opinions as to what should be in the study and what shouldn’t. If we’re going to expend funds, or even if we’re not going to expend funds, we want to get it right.”
The study is the most recent effort to end a more-than-12-year dispute between some Grandview residents and McGee Construction about the effect of blasting in the McGee pit on its neighbors. Neighbors have said blasting to free up rock to make aggregate in the pit for construction projects damages their homes, disrupts their lives and causes dust and noise.
A blasting company representative, in a previous presentation to councilors, however, said the blasts are safe and do not cause damage to area homes.
Councilors voted 5-1 to table the proposal to hire a Freeport-based engineering firm, Golder Associates, to help them address the issue.
Some city officials, including At-Large Councilor Marci Alexander, said they want the firm to make recommendations for changes that could be made to blasting procedures, and to city ordinances, to reduce the effect on the neighborhood. But other city officials, including Bridgeo, thought the goal of hiring the firm was to analyze information and data about blasting previously provided by Ken Smith, technical supervisor for Gardiner-based Maine Drilling and Blasting, which does the blasting in McGee’s pit, to verify that it is accurate.
At-Large Councilor Mark O’Brien said it wasn’t clear what the firm would be expected to deliver to the city. He supported Bridgeo’s suggestion the city, instead of commissioning a study, pay Golder Associates’ hourly fee to meet with council, as soon as next Thursday if possible, to have a conversation about what the firm could provide and what city officials are looking for.
Both a Grandview neighborhood resident and a representative of McGee Construction spoke in favor of having a study done, though both also expressed concern the study may not be complete in time for the upcoming relicensing process for McGee’s pit, expected to start by this summer.
“Even though there is a great deal of cost associated with it, I’m in favor of the consultant looking at this blasting issue,” said Seth McGee, of McGee Construction. “However you choose to go about it, I’d like to see all these issues addressed. Because we’re spending a great deal of time up here defending our position, and it has been implied we’re causing damage, from the neighborhood. I think we’ve addressed a lot of the issues but we need to hear that from an independent party. And I think you, and the neighbors, do also.”
Maryalice Crofton, a Grandview resident, gave councilors a list of questions they’d like to see addressed, and said an independent, unbiased review to look at the science of the issue would help the city create an ordinance that would be solid and complete.
Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, the only vote against tabling the issue, said she believes the city needs its own independent expert to come up with a solution, but said she didn’t think the council needed to table the vote.
City councilors, last year in response to complaints from neighbors, proposed to reduce 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. But councilors didn’t take action on either proposal after hearing, from pit owners, that either would make their operations not financially viable.
The city’s ordinance uses ground vibrations and particle velocities to measure the size of blasts in quarries, as measured by devices placed just outside the quarries, setting maximum standards which blasters are not supposed to exceed.
Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant said it may simply be that a residential neighborhood next to a pit just isn’t compatible.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647