AUGUSTA — A compromise proposed Thursday in an effort to settle a long-running dispute about blasting between a quarry owner and neighbors of the quarrying operation would reduce the number of blasts allowed per year but, unlike a previous proposal, would not reduce the size of allowable blasts.

The proposed change to the city’s blasting ordinance would reduce the number of blasts allowed per year in mineral extraction, or quarrying, operations to six, according to At-large City Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau. A pit operator said that much of a reduction would make it impossible for his operation to survive.

Currently, the city’s two quarry operators, McGee Construction and Quirion Construction, both on West River Road, are allowed a specific number of blasts per year in their licenses. McGee Construction owner Steve McGee said he’s licensed to have 10 blasts a year, while Quirion is licensed for 12 blasts a year.

The proposal would leave the existing city standards for an allowable blast, as measured by ground vibrations and particle velocities, at the current levels, which are 75 percent of what is allowed under state standards.

City officials this year had proposed to reduce the standards for allowable blasts in quarries in Augusta to just 15 percent of the city’s current standards, in response to complaints by neighbors of quarry operations that blasts were causing cracks in their homes, were reducing their property values, and were so disruptive it made it difficult for them to enjoy their homes.

Blasting and construction company officials said that standard, just 15 percent of the current standard, would be so low it wouldn’t be economically feasible to continue blasting rock for construction projects.

Bilodeau said officials worked to come up with a new proposal after hearing from the city’s two pit owners the lower standards would not allow their businesses to continue blasting in an economically feasible way.

He said reducing the number but not size of blasts was an effort to reach compromise between neighbors and the pit owners.

McGee said Thursday what city officials describe as a compromise in the proposal they made this week, which would reduce the number of blasts he could execute each year from 10 to six, also would not allow his business to blast enough rock to be financial feasible for his construction business.

“I cannot survive on 60 percent of the blasts I have and consider it, indeed, regulatory taking,” McGee said at Thursday’s City Council meeting.

McGee said he had understood the issue would be tabled Thursday, in part so the city could hire an expert to review material about blasting safety presented previously by Ken Smith, Maine Drilling and Blasting’s technical supervisor, and for further work on the proposal to take place.

He said he believes city officials are hurrying the new proposal through so it can be voted on before city councilors whose terms end in January leave the council.

Councilors Patrick Paradis, Cecil Munson and Dale McCormick all will leave the council when the new council is sworn in in January.

“I feel the need for the expert opinion to verify or nullify Ken Smith’s findings to be very important,” McGee said. “I, for one, feel the properties are being safeguarded. This rush stuff I don’t think is necessary. We need more time to do what we need to do.”

Ward 3 Councilor Paradis said councilors have been discussing the currently debated proposal for two months and the issue of blasting in quarries and its effect on residents for about nine years, so the changes are not a rush job. He said a business has no right to infringe on the lives of its neighbors.

“The number of blasts is not enshrined in the Bible,” Paradis said. “It is a privilege to get a license (to blast). But you cannot obstruct the livelihood of the residents who abut you, and that’s whether you’re a car wash or a quarry. It’s like PTSD to them, having to think about a blast every month.”

Councilors tabled a decision on the latest proposed blasting ordinance changes.

Paradis said the proposed changes would be discussed at an informational meeting next Thursday and again at a business meeting Dec. 15, at which point it councilors could vote on it.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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