AUGUSTA — Construction company representatives said a proposal to tighten the city’s standards for blasting in quarries to just 15 percent of the current allowable standard would make it impossible to blast and force them to close their mining operations and get out of the stone business.

Officials of Gardiner-based McGee Construction and its blasting contractor, Maine Drilling and Blasting, as well as Augusta-based Quirion Construction, which also has quarrying operations in the city, all said if the current standards in the ordinance decreased as much as proposed it would force them to close down their quarrying operations in Augusta. And they, and their customers, would have to look elsewhere for stone materials used widely in the construction industry in road and infrastructure projects. They noted the current ordinance was the result of intensive, years-long discussions between industry representatives, city officials, and neighbors to quarry operations.

“The problem with the ordinance, at 15 percent, which is 50 percent of what the state allows, is it would effectively shut the quarries down,” said Steve McGee, owner of McGee Construction and the West River Road pit where regular blasting has occurred and which has fueled an ongoing dispute with neighbors of the nearby Grandview neighborhood. “Fifteen percent wouldn’t allow us enough to be economically feasible at all.”

The proposed ordinance change, sponsored by multiple councilors and going to them for discussion Thursday, comes in response both to ongoing complaints from residents of the Grandview neighborhood and to a city official describing a blast he observed from inside a home as startling and alarming.

The Grandview neighborhood is next to a McGee Construction-owned pit and quarry operation that blasts rock up to 10 times a year off West River Road. Matt Nazar, the city’s development director, has attended roughly 40 blasts at quarry operations, mostly in the McGee pit, over the last 10 years. During a recent blast, Nazar was in the home of Grandview resident Roland Maheux, and he said the blast was “startling,” and felt much more significant than blasts of similar size he observed outside.

Nazar said that blast and the other blasts he’s observed at the West River Road pit this year were well below allowable standards for ground vibration contained in the city’s blasting ordinance.

Nazar said data indicated the blast was only 20 percent to 25 percent of the maximum allowable blast.

So if the city wants to appease neighbors by reducing the blasts’ impact, the city’s allowable standards would have to be lowered dramatically. Officials said they are already lower than the standards of the federal Bureau on Mines.

Disputes between the pit owner and neighbors about the effect of blasting there go back many years, and the city’s current mining and blasting rules were formed after a lengthy process involving multiple interested parties.

A May 2015 blast prompted a city lawsuit that claimed the blast exceeded allowable standards and sought to revoke McGee’s permit to blast and extract rock and gravel, which it uses in construction projects.

However, the lawsuit was settled in September. McGee agreed to pay the city $10,000. And the city agreed to notify McGee in the event of future suspected blasting problems prior to initiating litigation.

Mayor David Rollins noted the rules change would apply not just to the McGee pit but throughout the city.

Peter Quirion, owner of Quirion Construction, said the new standards would cripple his business and force him to cease quarrying rock in Augusta.

“It’s going to force myself and many other contractors to buy stone from Pike Industries in Sidney, and they’re not a taxpayer,” Quirion told city councilors as they discussed the proposal last week. “And let me tell you, I pay my fair share of taxes, and the city of Augusta never waits for its money. I hope we can keep the standard where it is now. I sell materials to the city of Augusta, and for stone products, the city will probably have to buy from Pike because McGee Construction, and myself will be out of the stone business if this ordinance passes.”

Because of a technical problem, blasting company representatives were unable to show a video presentation they’d put together on the issue last week. Instead, according to City Manager William Bridgeo, they plan to make that presentation at this Thursday’s council meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the council chamber at Augusta City Center.

Councilors are also scheduled to:

• discuss discontinuing St. Andrew’s Street as a city street, in response to a request from representatives of Kennebec Community Church, the church at the end of that road;

• hear a presentation on the city’s annual audit; and

• discuss authorizing a grant application seeking $125,000 from the Grants for Substance Abuse Assistance Projects to create a program that would divert first-time drug offenders from the criminal justice system if they agree to begin, and they successfully complete, substance abuse treatment.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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