AUGUSTA — A representative of the owner of a pit that has drawn complaints from neighbors told city councilors the company will work to control dust better and wants to mend relations with neighbors.

City councilors Thursday held a first reading on proposed changes to the city’s blasting and mineral extraction ordinances, which together regulate pit and quarry operations in the city. The changes are meant to address concerns from residents of the Grandview neighborhood about dust from blasts at a West River Road pit owned by West Gardiner-based McGee Construction.

A major change would make pits that are now grandfathered under the 2007 ordinance — which includes all the pits in the city — subject to requirements they control dust coming from blasts.

Seth McGee, of McGee Construction, said while the company was “not thrilled” about the changes to the ordinance, it appreciated the chance to have input and planned to make changes to its blasting practices to reduce dust generated by them.

“We have a fair amount of blasting activity. We’ve had some issues with our neighbors,” McGee said. “There are some improvements we think we can make. We want to water down our blasts more so than we’ve been doing. We think we can reduce some of the dust volume.”

He said the company is “going to do the best we can.”

“We really want to improve our performance,” he said. “And hopefully come to a balance that works for us and our neighbors. And we can at some point begin to mend our relationship. We don’t want to argue about this forever.”

McGee said the weather is a major factor in dust spreading from blasts, and the company hired a meteorologist to give more accurate forecasts for blasts.

A second reading is required for passage of the ordinance changes, which could come as soon as the council’s next business meeting in two weeks.

Some exemptions that were removed from an earlier draft of the changes were put back into the ordinances after the owners of long-existing pits said they would not be able to bring their pits, some of which have operated for decades before the ordinances were adopted, into compliance with the new rules.

In response to those concerns, some exemptions were reinstated in the ordinance, including provisions exempting existing pits from meeting all required setbacks and buffers between pit roads and active mining areas and neighboring residences and water sources.

At-large Councilor Dale McCormick, who previously said she wasn’t swayed by pit owners’ arguments for reinstating some of the exemptions, said Thursday she was satisfied the reinstated exemptions would not jeopardize public safety.

Matt Nazar, development director, said many of the ordinance regulations are also reflected in state rules. But he said the ordinance changes proposed would give the city’s code enforcement officers the ability to enforce rules, including the requirement that dust from blasts be controlled.

At-large Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau said the intent of the ordinance changes was to give the city the ability to enforce performance standards while not putting pit operators out of business.

“We wanted to make sure we had something in there in the event of an incident. Our code enforcement officer could come in and take action,” he said. “We wanted to find a good compromise. I think we’ve come to that.”

He said he has spoken with Grandview residents and they are on board with the proposed changes. No neighbors spoke at Thursday’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.

Nazar said one new pit has been licensed since the ordinance was adopted but hasn’t started operations yet, and between 15 and 17 pits were grandfathered when the ordinance was adopted.

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 due to being grandfathered when the ordinance was passed.

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 comes out of the pit and lands on their homes, cars and anything else outside.

McGee said the company would work with its blasting contractor, Maine Drilling and Blasting, which he said is the best, to reduce dust from blasts.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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