AUGUSTA — The City Council on Thursday is expected to consider a proposal to extend the blasting licenses of the two commercial quarry operators in the city while simultaneously enacting a moratorium on allowing any longer-term license renewals.
The council previously voted down a similar proposal.
Ward 3 City Councilor Harold Elliott reintroduced the controversial proposal in an effort to give city officials time to have an expert review blasting data and other information to try to determine whether blasts could be responsible for damage to homes in the Grandview neighborhood.
The two companies that blast rock under the provisions of the city’s mineral extraction ordinance, McGee Construction and Quirion Construction, both have licenses set to expire in June. Quirion Construction already has submitted a “notice of intent to renew license” document with the city, seeking to have its license renewed, with Quirion’s application currently scheduled to go to the Planning Board for a public hearing April 25.
If councilors approve on Thursday the proposed moratorium and license extension sponsored by Elliott and Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, however, it could prevent the Planning Board from taking up Quirion’s mineral extraction application but would extend his current license until the end of the year, according to City Manager William Bridgeo.
“As a moratorium, it would take effect immediately,” Bridgeo said Tuesday.
The proposal would extend all valid mineral extraction licenses that include permission to conduct blasting through Dec. 31, 2017, “unless a complete application for renewal licensure has been submitted prior to April 20, 2017.”
It was unclear Tuesday whether what Quirion Construction has submitted to the city is considered a “complete application” and, thus, whether the Planning Board still could take it up as scheduled April 25, or it would be subject instead to the proposed moratorium if councilors approve it Thursday.
Neighbors have complained that blasting at McGee’s pit has damaged their homes, made it hard to sell them by lowering their property values, and disrupted their lives with noise and vibrations.
However a representative of Maine Drilling and Blasting, the Gardiner-based firm that does the blasting in McGee’s pit, told city councilors last year the blasts are safe and do not damage nearby homes. And company owner Steve McGee has said property values in the neighborhood have not been harmed by blasting.
A May 2015 blast in McGee’s pit 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. The lawsuit was settled in September 2016. McGee agreed to pay the city $10,000, and the city agreed to notify McGee in the event of future suspected blasting problems before initiating litigation.
Blasting in Quirion’s pits, by comparison, has not prompted large-scale neighbor complaints, though the company did reach a consent agreement with the city in 2014 for exceeding blast limits in two blasts in one of its pits, which also are on West River Road.
An extension of McGee’s and Quirion’s licenses would give the council time to revise the ordinance before their licenses potentially are renewed under the terms of the current ordinance, which Grandview residents have said has not been adequate to protect them.
Both owners then would need to seek to renew their licenses early next year under the terms of the potentially revised ordinance, if councilors do indeed use the extra time to change the ordinance.
Councilors voted to reject a previous version of the proposal March 2.
The existing ordinance rules and license provisions, including number of blasts per year allowed in each pit, would remain in place, and blasting would be able to continue as it has, until the end of the year. Blasting generally takes place only during the construction season, not during the winter.
Currently, Quirion Construction is allowed 12 blasts a year, while the McGee site can have 10 a year.
Councilors failed to reach consensus on other recent proposals meant to address neighbors’ concerns after extensive debate last year and extending into this year.
City councilors, Bridgeo said, authorized him to contract with Golder Associates, a Freeport firm with blasting expertise, to study the issue, look at data from two specific blasts, examine the city’s existing related ordinances and rules, and make recommendations on how the problems there might be addressed. Councilors authorized the expenditure of up to $15,000 for the study.
Councilors are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the council chamber at Augusta City Center.
Councilors are also scheduled to:
• Consider the second reading, of two required by the city charter, of ordinance changes regarding religious institutions; and
• Consider a proposal to take $2,500 from a council contingency account to give it to the Augusta Downtown Alliance for signs downtown.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647