AUGUSTA — Two years after the city-imposed closure of a West River Road asphalt plant that prompted neighbors’ complaints about noise and odors, a concrete plant’s operators are seeking a zone change to allow the company to blast rock at its Civic Center Drive site.

Auburn Concrete built a concrete plant in a former quarry just off Civic Center Drive in 2011, across from the Central Maine Commerce Center, and has operated since then without complaints from neighbors, according to company and city officials.

Joel Cummings, an owner of the company, said the company would like to blast rock at the site to level the area to make more space and, at the same time, produce aggregate from the rock to make concrete.

He told city councilors Thursday the company sees an opportunity in making concrete bridges used in the logging industry, but it doesn’t have space to make the up-to-80-foot-long stressed concrete beams in its confined space.

The company’s plan, Cummings said, would be to blast rock from the quarry to create space — as well as enough raw materials to make the bridge sections for three to five years. After that occurs, and the blasting has brought much of the land involved down to near road level, the company would hope to sell or develop the land it anticipates would be desirable for medical or office space because it already would be leveled and is near the new MaineGeneral hospital and the Commerce Center.

Cummings said he understands there has been a previous “situation” in the city and said his company is sensitive to that issue.

That earlier situation involved the now-closed R.C. & Sons Paving plant, which operated off West River Road and drew complaints from neighbors of the nearby Grandview neighborhood. That plant operated in a pit owned by a local company, McGee Construction, as part of a mineral extraction, or blasting, permit from the city.

The plant closed two years ago after the city, in response to neighbors’ complaints, changed the zoning of the West River Road site so asphalt plants no longer were an allowed use under a mineral extraction permit. The company briefly opened a plant in Windsor in the summer of 2012 but has gone out of business since then.

Auburn Concrete is seeking a zoning change to allow mineral extraction to occur at its site.

Cummings told councilors his company would have no problems with its neighbors, the closest of which are in commercial buildings.

“We like to think we’re a pretty good operator. My dad’s been at it a long time, and I’ve been at it a long time,” Cummings said of the business and his father, Rod, who is also an owner. “We know what we’re doing. We’re efficient operators and we do what we say we’re going to do.”

Cummings said the closest residence is 1,500 feet away.

He estimated they would do seven to 10 blasts a year to break rock loose from the quarry.

Councilors were receptive to hearing the proposal but wary of committing to it, given the West River Road experience.

“We have three people on this council who have battle scars from the issue we had before,” Councilor David Rollins said. “It appears to me, in aerial photos, unlike in the pit on West River Road. We don’t have a nearby residential area, and it seems to be buffered very well; but I do know everybody could say it sounds good, until the earth shakes. Then they may be coming out of the woodwork.”

Mayor William Stokes said councilors should hear the details of the potential blasting at the site from officials of the company Cummings said would handle the blasting for them, Maine Drilling and Blasting.

City Manager William Bridgeo said MaineGeneral and Commerce Center officials should be invited to that meeting as well, which officials anticipate holding at the April 25 council meeting.

Depending on how that meeting goes, councilors could refer a proposed zone change to allow mineral extraction to occur at Auburn Concrete’s Civic Center Drive plant to the Planning Board for a recommendation.

If the zone is changed, Auburn Concrete still would have to go through the Planning Board approval process to obtain a permit for its specific blasting and development plans.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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