AUGUSTA — City councilors approved changes that will require “perceivable and measurable” dust from blasts in mining operations to be kept off neighboring residential properties.

City ordinances already required mining operations to “control” dust from blasts on their properties, but pits and other mining operations in existence before the mineral extraction ordinance was approved in 2007 were grandfathered from that and some other requirements of the ordinance. All of the pits operating in the city were grandfathered under the ordinance and thus were not required to control dust, according to Matt Nazar, the city’s development director.

Ordinance changes were proposed by city councilors in response to complaints from residents of the Grandview neighborhood that blasts this summer from a McGee Construction-owned pit off West River Road caused dust to cover their homes, cars and anything else left outdoors.

Much of the council debate about the issue centered on how, or even whether, to define how much dust constitutes a violation.

The draft of the mineral extraction ordinance eventually approved by councilors initially said, at the start of Thursday’s meeting, pit operators could not allow “perceivable or measurable” dust from their operations to land on any residential properties.

At-Large Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau amended the ordinance to change “perceivable or measurable” to “perceivable and measurable,” replacing “or” with “and.” He said pit operators affected by the ordinance, including representatives from West Gardiner-based McGee Construction, requested the change from “or” to “and” in a meeting he had with them prior to Thursday’s council meeting. That meeting was one of several Bilodeau held with pit owners.

Stephen Langsdorf, city attorney, said pit owners were concerned there could be an amount of dust so minuscule it could not even be seen but still could be measured. He said the city would not actually have to measure the amount of dust to determine a violation took place. Instead, the city would have to show the amount of dust was both perceivable and measurable.

Langsdorf said the dust from a blast must be visible on an item on a residential property for there to be a violation.

City Manager William Bridgeo said some Grandview neighborhood residents had complained they could smell the dust from blasts.

Langsdorf said there will be no violations if someone only smells dust but there is no perceivable amount of dust that actually lands on a residential property.

Nazar noted that if dust is low enough for someone to smell it, it is likely also to land on the property and to be visible and will end up being a violation anyway.

Seth McGee, of McGee Construction, said the company appreciated being involved in the process and understood the need to control dust from blasts. He also repeated a pledge he made at a previous meeting to improve operations at the pit and reduce its effect on neighbors.

“Our operation is one of the most active pits/quarries in Augusta, and we’re in close proximity to our neighbors,” McGee said. “I want to say, again, we are committed to improving our practices, especially when it comes to dust. Our goal is to improve our relationship with our neighbors and lessen the impact on their lives. At the same time, we want to sell gravel and rock, but we want to move forward in a positive direction.”

Bilodeau said he and other councilors talked with pit operators about the ordinance changes in an effort to come up with an ordinance that would address residents’ concerns while also not affecting business operations of the pits, which conduct blasts to free up rock and other construction materials used to build roads and other infrastructure.

No residents from the Grandview neighborhood spoke about the changes at Thursday’s council meeting, nor at most previous council meetings at which the issue was discussed. However, Bilodeau said he had been in contact with neighborhood residents, and in general, they approved of the ordinance changes.

The changes made were spread through two ordinances — the blasting ordinance and mineral extraction ordinance. Councilors approved the changes to the blasting ordinance unanimously, 7-0. They approved the mineral extraction ordinance by a 6-1 vote.

Ward 1 Councilor Michael Byron, the lone vote against the mineral extraction ordinance change, said he voted against it because he didn’t like the process used, including Bilodeau’s meetings with pit owners, which did not take place as part of either formal City Council or Planning Board meetings.

Byron said such significant changes should have gone before the Planning Board, where public hearings would be held and pit owners and their neighbors would have had a chance to express their views and concerns about the changes.

Without hearing that, he said, he couldn’t determine whether the ordinance satisfied either side of the issue.

“I can’t judge the merits of this ordinance” without hearing what pit owners and their neighbors think of it, Byron said. “So I’ll be voting against it.”

At-Large Councilor Dale McCormick voted against Bilodeau’s motion to change “perceivable or measurable” to “perceivable and measurable” because she said it was stronger with “or.” However, she voted for the ordinance change itself.

At-Large Councilor Cecil Munson praised pit owners for working with the city in good faith to come up with a solution.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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