AUGUSTA — City councilors voted Thursday to reject a proposal to delay relicensing of commercial quarry operators who blast rock in the city.

The move, which was proposed as a way to give city officials time to meet with a blasting expert and consider changing city blasting regulations before considering renewing mineral extraction licenses, effectively would have applied to only one entity in the city, McGee Construction. That’s because McGee is one of only two mineral extraction license-holders who are allowed to use blasting to free up rock in Augusta. The other, Quirion Construction, already received a license renewal for another five years from the Planning Board on April 25.

“I ask that you vote ‘no.’ I think we’re due our review with the Planning Board, just as other quarry operators already have had,” Seth McGee, representing Gardiner-based McGee Construction, told councilors Thursday night. “I don’t think this moratorium will help anything.”

Councilors voted 4-3 to reject the proposal, the latest action in a long-standing debate and dispute over blasting in McGee’s pit off West River Road. Residents of the nearby Grandview neighborhood have said the blasting has damaged their homes and disrupted their lives. Blasting company officials have denied that claim and said their blasts have been within city ordinance standards.

Councilors who voted against the proposal said the Planning Board already can take as much time as it needs to consider McGee’s license renewal and consult with outside experts. The proposal wouldn’t actually require the Planning Board to do so, which makes the proposal to extend the current McGee license temporarily unnecessary. They also noted that if the council were to change the city’s mineral extraction ordinance, McGee and Quirion both would have to comply with the new rules, even if they both already have renewed licenses before the ordinance is changed.

“The Planning Board is fully capable of doing what they see fit,” At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien said. “We know, any changes we make in the mineral extraction ordinance, the standards are going to be imposed upon both licensees. For those reasons, I’m going to vote ‘no.'”

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, who voted for the proposal along with Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant and Ward 3 Councilor Harold Elliott, said it would have provided some reassurance to Grandview residents that the Planning Board would have time to consult with a blasting expert the city has contracted with, at a cost of about $15,000, before deciding whether to renew McGee’s license.

“I served on the Planning Board for about a decade, and there is a lot of pressure to act quickly on applications,” Conti said. “Even though (Planning Board members) may have the power to hire a consultant, this is kind of a new thing. It’s not something they routinely do. I’m voting for this because I think it sends a message of support and solidarity for the neighborhood and is supportive of the Planning Board, giving them the time to get the information they think they need.”

Grandview resident Roland Maheux said neighborhood residents have been dealing with blasting at the site for years, and he vowed they will continue to raise their concerns about damage to their homes.

“Look at that monster of a hill (that McGee is blasting) and think that neighbors are going to have to live through that whole hill coming down over I don’t know how many years, and hundreds of blasts,” Maheux said. “There isn’t one of you that can tell me we’re not going to incur damages. It’s impossible to blow up a whole hill within 1,000 feet of a neighborhood and say, gosh, the experts say we’re not going to get that damage. Because science says blasting doesn’t hurt anything. I don’t buy that. We’ve seen it with our own two eyes. We’ve felt it. We’ve heard it. It started back in 2002. We’re now in 2017. And I can almost tell you, in 2025, if that hill is still being blasted, you’re still going to be listening to us.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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