AUGUSTA — The two quarry operators that blast rock in the city, both of which have mineral extraction licenses set to expire this summer, urged officials to allow them to go forward with their license renewals, and not to enact a proposed moratorium that could delay their review until next year.
City councilors Thursday discussed a proposal to extend the mineral extraction licenses of the two commercial quarry operators that blast rock in the city, Quirion Construction and McGee Construction, until the end of the year, while also not allowing them to renew their licenses longer-term in the meantime.
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 from one of the quarry operations, McGee Construction, could be responsible for damage to homes in the Grandview neighborhood.
Representatives of the two companies that blast rock under the provisions of the city’s mineral extraction ordinance said having the licenses is a key part of planning for their businesses and argued they should be allowed to have their licenses considered for renewal by the Planning Board under the normal, established procedure.
“The Quirions would like the opportunity to engage in regular and normal operation for their business, and would like to have available the regular and normal permitting for their business,” said attorney Andrew Hamilton, representing the owners of Quirion Construction, and urging councilors to allow the Planning Board to review their license renewal application. “The Quirions want to secure their renewal permit, keep the peace with their neighbors, and otherwise be left alone.”
He said their license expires May 22 and their renewal application had to be submitted, under the terms of city rules, by April 17.
Quirion Construction already has submitted an application to renew its license with the city, with Quirion’s application currently scheduled to go to the Planning Board for a public hearing April 25.
Steve McGee, owner of McGee Construction, said that firm turned in its application for a license renewal Wednesday. Their license expires in June.
“We put a great deal of work into our pit, and into our application,” McGee told city councilors Thursday. “It’s very important to us and we’d like to keep going forward with this process.”
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. The proposal includes a moratorium on the city considering any license renewals until next year.
Stephen Langsdorf, city attorney, said the ordinance as written on Thursday’s council agenda “at this point doesn’t actually do anything,” because applications to renew their mineral extraction licenses already have been submitted by the companies. The proposed ordinance as initially submitted 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.”
Both Quirion’s and McGee’s renewal applications appear to have been submitted before that date.
However, councilors could change the proposed ordinance. They plan to discuss potential changes to it at their informational meeting April 27, two days after Quirion’s application is scheduled to go before the Planning Board.
Langsdorf said the city might be able to shorten the length of the proposed moratorium so it expires before the end of the year but still gives councilors more time to review the issue and potentially change the ordinance before license renewals from the two local companies are reviewed.
Mayor David Rollins said councilors have authorized City Manager William Bridgeo to contract with a Freeport blasting expert, Golder Associates, to study the blasting issue and present information on it to the Planning Board. The study initially was expected to cost about $35,000, but councilors limited the cost to $15,000 and narrowed the scope of issues Golder Associates would be expected to investigate and present to the city.
“We just want to make sure we have our best knowledge for the residents and businesses, moving forward, in what we all know is a very complicated issue,” Rollins said.
Councilors took no action on the proposal Thursday.
Councilors voted to reject a previous version of the proposal March 2.
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.
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.
Prior to the meeting’s usual start time of 7 p.m., councilors voted, 5-0, during their pre-meeting, to go into executive session with the city attorney to discuss the controversial blasting issue, with their reason cited as entering the closed door session as “to discuss legal matters.” They came out of executive session roughly 20 minutes later.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647