AUGUSTA — Grandview neighborhood residents said blasting at a quarry operation in a pit adjacent to their neighborhood has made it impossible to sell their homes at their full value and caused cracks in their homes’ floors and walls, and it makes them anxious before and angry after blasts that can occur up to 10 times a year.

They asked the city, as they have before, to take action to protect their neighborhood. Councilors are considering a proposal to reduce the size of blasts in quarries in the city.

Roland Maheux, who lives with his wife, Anna, on Edwards Street, about 760 feet from the blasting area of the McGee Construction-owned pit off West River Road, described a Sept. 29 blast as violent and said he literally could see the walls of his home moving and could feel shaking throughout the home. He said his home has evidence of structural fatigue including cracks in walls and floors, and steps that are slowly creeping farther away from his home. He said he thinks at least some of that damage “is a result of the pounding my house has taken (from blasting in the quarry) over the last 14 years.”

He said he gets anxious before every blast. And he said when a violent blast happens, he reacts so strongly to the potential damage to his home that he used to go outside after some of them and yell and scream.

Other neighborhood residents said they also think cracks and other damage to their homes has been caused by blasting at the pit.

Patrick Street resident Gary Leighton said he and his wife have tried twice over the last six years to sell their home but have been unable to do so. He said he thinks the blasting, as well as publicity and the resulting stigma attached to it, has hurt their ability to sell their home, even though it is beautiful home with a big yard and good neighbors.

“Our hope is that a resolution can finally be reached so those of us who want to sell can do so, and those who want to remain can enjoy our neighborhood,” Leighton said.

Last week councilors heard a presentation from the technical supervisor for Gardiner-based Maine Drilling and Blasting, the firm contracted to blast rock in a quarry owned by McGee Construction off West River Road in Augusta. He spoke about blasting and when it does and does not present a potential danger to property.

City officials are considering proposed changes to the city blasting ordinance that would reduce the standards for allowable blasts in quarries in Augusta to just 15 percent of the city’s current standards, which are already tighter than state blasting standards. Blasting and construction company officials said last week that standard would be so low it wouldn’t be economically feasible to continue blasting rock for construction projects.

Industry representatives said last week they would work with the city staff to come up with a potentially new standard as a compromise that would reduce the vibrations coming from blasts but still allow the companies to operate their quarries.

Matt Nazar, development director for the city, said that has not yet happened.

One resident who lives near a pit, in contrast to the several who complained about the impact of blasting, said he hasn’t had any problems with a Quirion Construction quarry operation that blasts in two pits near his home.

Ross Doer, who said his West River Road home is 150 to 300 feet away from a quarry where Quirion blasts, said their home was built in 1789. He said there has been no damage to his home’s original horsehair plaster, or any other damage from blasts.

“We couldn’t tell you how many blasts there have been, because it is so insignificant to us,” he said. “For us, for Quirion Construction, there is no issue.

However Lou Craig, a Grandview resident, said he believes blasting at the McGee pit has damaged his home, including causing a massive horizontal break he said will cost him thousands of dollars to fix.

He said he’s filed a claim with Maine Drilling and Blasting over the damage.

He said he thinks no blasting should be allowed in the McGee pit.

Councilors were not expected to take action on the proposed changes Thursday.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the city is working with an independent expert to have the presentation made by Smith, and other information presented to the city, analyzed. He said councilors would discuss those findings at a future meeting, likely Dec. 8.

Meanwhile, more blasting is expected to occur Friday afternoon at the site.

The proposal for tighter rules was made 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. Nazar 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 Maheux,and he said the blast was “startling” and felt much more significant than blasts of similar size he observed outside.

Smith said that blast was not damaging to buildings despite what Nazar felt. He said it is a natural human reaction to be surprised by blasts. 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. He said data indicated the blast was only 20 percent to 25 percent of the maximum allowable blast. So if the city wants to address neighbors’ concerns by reducing the blasts’ impact, the city’s allowable standards would have to be lowered dramatically.

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.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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