AUGUSTA — City officials may remove a grandfather clause in an ordinance that governs city pits as a way to address complaints from residents about dust coming from blasts at a West River Road site.

But pit owners and one city official say new requirements would be difficult to meet and to enforce.

The City Council Thursday proposed a new ordinance that adds property setbacks and other requirements that all the city’s pits would have to adhere to. That proposal will get its first reading at next week’s meeting.

All of the city’s working pits, quarries and other mining operations are exempt from a 2007 mineral extraction ordinance that requires dust coming from blasts be controlled because pits in existence at the time were grandfathered and all the pits in the city now were also operating then.

The move Thursday came in response to residents’ complaints about blasting at a McGee Construction-owned pit near the Grandview neighborhood.

The 2007 ordinance calls for controlling dust with sweeping, paving, watering or using other best management practices. The McGee pit and others in the city, however, are exempt.

“With dust, right now, we don’t have any provision whatsoever with respect to existing operations,” said interim Mayor Mark O’Brien. “While less than perfect, bringing over the existing standards (for non-grandfathered pits) is an improvement over where we stand today.”

Following a June blast at the West River Road pit, some residents complained to city councilors their homes were coated with dust.

The blasts at the pit are generally to break up rock for use in road and other construction projects. But neighbors have said the blasts also release dust that floats out of the pit and lands on their homes, cars and anything else outside.

Councilors Thursday said they want to create a measurable, enforceable standard to more tightly regulate dust from pit and other blasting sites that goes beyond the existing standards for new pits. Councilors said the rules now are vague, impossible to measure and difficult to enforce.

However Matt Nazar, city development director, said he has researched methods for measuring and enforcing dust standards, but hasn’t been able to come up with an enforceable, measurable standard he thinks would be effective.

He said the state Department of Environmental Protection regulates dust using an opacity standard, measuring how much light comes through a dust cloud by measuring it every 15 seconds over five minutes. However, Nazar said a dust cloud from a blast often doesn’t last five minutes.

“The ordinance now says it has to be controlled, but it does not provide performance standards or a method of measurement,” Nazar said. “That’s the most challenging aspect of this discussion. The state method (for measuring dust) works well for crushers and bag houses, where you have constant dust. But doesn’t work for things like a blast, where you have one big cloud of dust and then it goes away.”

At-Large Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau has previously suggested limiting dust emissions to within the pit owner’s property boundaries.

Nazar said in a memo to councilors a rule not allowing any dust to leave a pit site “is likely to be an impossible standard to meet.”

“Dust migrates across property lines everywhere in the city every day and setting such a standard for mineral extraction sites, where some dust is always going to be generated, creates a situation where violations are almost guaranteed, even if the operator uses every best management practice available,” he said.

New performance standards for all pits under the proposed changes also include greater setbacks, paving or graveling roads, requiring greater separation from drinking well water or public drinking water, limiting material stockpikes and maintaining natural vegetation.

Bilodeau said he met with owners or representatives of two pit operations in the city before Thursday’s council meeting and they want a number of the exemptions retained because they wouldn’t be able to comply with new standards.

Bilodeau said difficulties included requirements pit roads and other operations be specific distances from property lines, residences and water sources. Bilodeau said he had no problem with many of the pit owners’ requested exemptions and asked Nazar to revise the proposal to put some of the exemptions back into the proposed ordinance changes. He asked the changes be ready for a first reading — of the required two — at next week’s council meeting.

Other councilors said the mineral extraction ordinance was the product of years of discussions and changes to it should not be made in haste and asked that the issue be put off until it can be discussed at an informational meeting in two weeks.

But Bilodeau said he didn’t want to delay the changes and said he will still put the item on next week’s business meeting agenda for a first reading. He said if other councilors didn’t like that, they can vote against it.

Several pit owners attended the meeting but were not offered a chance to speak.

At-Large Councilor Dale McCormick said some of the exemptions Bilodeau said pit owners had requested had to do with public safety and she had not been swayed to agree to keep the exemptions in place.

Nazar said all of the pits operating in the city existed at the time of the ordinance. He said one new pit has been licensed but hasn’t started operations yet and between 15 and 17 pits were grandfathered when the ordinance was adopted.

He said while some residents have complained about traffic coming from pits on Sanford Road, the only pit that has drawn complaints about operations in the pit itself has been the McGee pit off West River Road.

Grandview neighborhood residents have also complained about noise and odor coming from the pit in recent years.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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