AUGUSTA — Some Grandview neighborhood residents are once again up in arms about the latest proposed use of a neighboring gravel pit operation site, this time as a staging area for a company that plans to bring a natural gas pipeline through the area.

Summit Natural Gas of Maine officials have signed a lease to use about 5 acres off West River Road owned by West Gardiner-based McGee Construction as a staging area for this construction season. Company officials said they plan to store pipe and other equipment there as they work to lay pipe through Augusta as part of a larger project expected to expand throughout much of the Kennebec Valley.

Neighbors of the site, who battled with the owners of the former R.C. & Sons Paving company about noise, dust and odors coming from that company’s former asphalt plant inside the McGee pit until it moved out two summers ago, worry that some of those problems — at least the dust and noise — could return to their backyards with the staging area coming in.

Resident Lou Craig said he was OK with the proposal until he learned Summit would be using land about as close to the Grandview neighborhood as it could be on the McGee property, next to a ballfield, not farther down in the pit itself.

“We pictured it down where the R.C. paving plant was, where it would have been out of sight and out of mind,” Craig told city councilors late Thursday night.

Instead, Craig said, this week crews began leveling off an area above the gravel pit, which he said is in the part of the McGee property closest to their neighborhood, and where, he fears, wind will blow dust into the neighborhood.

“The Planning Board ordered McGee, as part of the conditions for his mineral extraction permit, to keep everything out of there,” Craig said of the northern part of the property. “Now this is where that operation is going. Now the neighborhood is all in an uproar. I just don’t know why they couldn’t put it down in the pit, where nobody would see it.”

Craig said he and his neighbors are not opposed to the natural gas project, and they’d like to be able to hook up to the pipeline when the gas starts flowing.

Summit officials said they’d see whether their staging area could be moved down into the pit, but later said they ideally need 5 acres or more.

Also, city officials speculated that the former R.C. & Sons site probably was 2 to 4 acres.

“I think that may be a viable option. We’ll speak to Mr. McGee about that,” said Gabriel Vanderstraten, who will be the Summit construction manager on the site.

City development director Matt Nazar said the staging, or laydown area, may not be subject to city regulation because of its temporary nature. He said the city generally has not required permits or regulated temporary laydown areas for other projects, such as pipe storage areas used in the recent Greater Augusta Utilities District sewer project.

“We came to the conclusion that temporary utility laydown areas are not something the city typically regulates,” Nazar said. “They come in, lay down materials, use it as a staging area and are gone in a season, sometimes two. It’s unassociated with the uses that exist on the site today. We chose to treat it as we have other laydown areas.”

Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau said he wasn’t sure he was convinced by Nazar’s explanation that the city doesn’t play a role in regulating such sites. He also expressed concern that using the site as a laydown yard would set a precedent for it to be used for the same purpose each construction season.

Nazar responded that any nontemporary use of the site would require a Planning Board permit. He said the site must be returned to its previous condition after the laydown area is no longer being used. He said Seth McGee, in a letter to the city, said the site would be used from May 1 until the end of October.

Councilors agreed to have the city attorney look into the issue and report back.

Nazar also said he would look into whether noise from the site would be regulated by the city’s noise regulations, which limit noise coming from businesses to no more than 60 decibels at the property line. However the city’s noise rules do allow some exceptions, and Nazar said he would look into whether construction was one of the exceptions.

Vanderstraten said trucks bringing in pipe, and a lift device using suction to unload the pipes, probably would make noise of 70 to 90 decibels on the site.

Councilors also encouraged Summit officials to look into moving the laydown area to where Craig suggested it might affect the neighborhood less.

City Councilor Patrick Paradis told Summit’s director of business development, Michael Duguay, the city’s former development director, he should have contacted everyone in the neighborhood before moving ahead with the project.

“That didn’t happen,” Paradis said of Duguay contacting all residents of the 18-household neighborhood. “They’ve been through so much they’re scarred, and those wounds heal slowly.”

Duguay said he contacted resident Scott Snedden, whom he understood to be the leader of the Grandview neighborhood group, and expected him to share the information about the project with the others.

Grandview resident David Gomeau said they did indeed hear about the project from Snedden, but until hours before Thursday’s meeting, they didn’t know the project would be so close to their neighborhood. He said the city should have contacted neighbors.

“We’re just finding out about this, and their lease is already underway,” said Gomeau, a former city councilor. “We’re not trying to prevent anybody from using their land or anything. I think the city could have avoided this conversation” by communicating with the neighborhood.

Duguay said Summit would try to address neighbors’ concerns.

“We’re looking, as a company, for the best results,” he said. “Clearly we’re hearing tonight, from neighbors and the council, we need to look for a better solution.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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