AUGUSTA — A consultant told Planning Board members reviewing whether to allow McGee Construction to continue blasting rock in a West River Road quarry that recorded blast data from the site indicates blasts which have taken place in the quarry probably are not damaging nearby homes.

Residents of the nearby Grandview neighborhood have said blasts at the site damage their homes and disrupt their lives.

A consultant with Golder Associates, which has Maine offices in Freeport and was hired to assist the Planning Board as it considers whether to renew a mineral extraction license which would allow McGee to continue blasting at the site, said while he can’t say it is impossible homes in the neighborhood have been damaged by blasting at the nearby pit, the blast records he reviewed indicated that vibrations from blasts at the site are within acceptable levels and below levels typically considered necessary to cause damage to homes.

Jay R. Smerekanicz, senior consultant with Golder Associates, said vibrations and air blasts measured by devices at locations in the Grandview neighborhood during blasts in the quarry are lower than the thresholds at which damage to structures is expected to take place. He said widely used standards established in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s by the former U.S. Bureau of Mines during coal mining in the Midwest established thresholds used to set standards for when damage to structures can be expected to occur.

“What we’ve seen from the data from the quarry is the air blast and ground vibration are below these standards, which are some of the most common criteria for safe blasting,” Smerekanicz told board members Tuesday.

His report noted, however, that it is possible there are site-specific geological or structural conditions that could exist that would make homes in the neighborhood more susceptible to structural damage than the norm. It said detailed, and costly, monitoring would need to be done to confirm whether such conditions exist.

The report does acknowledge blasts at the site are within the vibration range considered to be “strongly perceptible” to “disturbing” to people, based on studies of human perception of blasting, but noted Grandview residents probably still would be able to perceive the vibrations from blasts even if the vibrations were reduced significantly.

Board members were not expected to vote on McGee’s license renewal Tuesday, and the board did not take public comment, either. Chairman Justin Poirier said the focus of Tuesday’s meeting would be review of the Golder report.

Steve Langsdorf, city attorney, noted there would be opportunities for the public to comment on the issue at future meetings.

Michelle Allott, attorney for McGee, while asking several questions of the consultant, said most blasts at the McGee site have been well below city ordinance standards, and suggested education of neighbors, that blasts aren’t likely damaging their homes, could help the situation.

Residents of the Grandview neighborhood, a residential neighborhood with 22 homes located roughly 750 to 1,700 feet from McGee’s West River Road quarry operation, where blasting takes place in a pit above the Kennebec River, have complained blasting there has damaged their homes, reduced their property value and disrupted their lives.

McGee officials and the technical supervisor for Maine Drilling and Blasting have said their blasting is safe and has not damaged homes in the neighborhood, and that property values there have not dropped because of the blasting.

The Golder report recommends the city seek to strike a compromise, and set allowable vibration levels from blasts somewhere below the current standards but above much lower standards the city considered implementing last year to address Grandview residents’ concerns, and also consider reducing its air blast standards.

Ken Smith, technical supervisor for Maine Drilling and Blasting, warned on Tuesday against the city relying too heavily on vibration levels from blasts to determine whether blasts are acceptable. He said making vibration standards too low could prompt blasters to increase the frequency level of blasts, which can prompt different complaints. He said it’d be best to allow blasters some wiggle room to make adjustments and said they have been working on technological improvements to lessen the impact of blasts on neighbors.

“I think we’re doing a relatively good job, based on recent history,” Smith said. “I think our best potential direction is to stay on top of that technology and harness it to be able to improve on what we’re doing.”

McGee’s license to blast rock at the company’s pit between West River Road and the Kennebec River will be extended indefinitely, for as long as the board continues to consider his application for another five-year renewal.

McGee is one of only two mineral extraction license-holders who are allowed to use blasting to free up rock in Augusta. The other, Quirion Construction, already received a license renewal for another five years from the Planning Board on April 25.

The Planning Board tabled action on McGee’s mineral extraction license, which includes permission to blast, in May, in part to give themselves time to consult with Golder Associates on the issue.

Blasting at McGee’s site has also prompted a lawsuit, filed in July by a couple, Cheri and Pietro Nicolosi, who live near the quarry operation and who claim blasts there have damaged their home, caused problems with their water and caused them emotional distress. The lawsuit names the city of Augusta, McGee Construction, and the firm which blasts rock for McGee, Maine Drilling and Blasting, and seeks compensation for damages and to have McGee’s permit to blast and extract rock at the site revoked.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj