DRESDEN — A dispute over the operation of a gravel pit off Cedar Grove Road is headed for the town’s Board of Appeals on Friday.

Heather Beasley, the president of Ballard-Milligan Gravel Corp., says she is within her rights to excavate gravel at the pit that’s been in her family for four generations. Through her attorney Beasley filed an appeal to the stop work order she was issued at the end of July.

“I’m grandfathered,” Beasley said in an interview this week.

Beasley said that means that her operation, where gravel has been dug regularly since the 1950s, is exempt from town or state regulations that have have been enacted since then.

Her gravel pit is one of several along that stretch of Route 128.

“Mine is probably one of the older ones in the state of Maine that’s been held by a family,” she said. “My family has taken a lot of pride in it.”

But, she said, her pit is the only one the town is trying to enforce its land-use ordinance on.

Town officials contend that a buffer strip at least 150 feet wide must be maintained between the area being excavated and the property boundary according to Dresden’s Land Use and Development Ordinance, and that Beasley’s gravel operation was not only in the buffer zone, it was encroaching on the range-way, an extension of Ballard Road.

Allen Moeller Sr. is one of Dresden’s three selectmen, and after hearing from a resident that a part of Ballard Road was completely gone, he said he and another selectman took a ride out to the road after a selectmen’s meeting.

“We found it was completely gone,” Moeller said.

In May, James Valley, Dresden’s code enforcement officer, issued a notice of violation after looking at the site.

“What was passable is no longer passable by any type of motor vehicle, nor would I say anybody would try to pass it on foot,” Valley said about his inspection. And it wasn’t safe; Valley said the drop off created by the excavation was very steep, perhaps 30 to 40 feet.

Valley, in the May letter to Beasley explaining the violation of the Land Use Ordinance, said that at least one section of the gravel pit appeared to be within 20 feet of the property line.

The ordinance makes an allowance for the buffer to be reduced to 25 feet, with the written permission of the abutting property owner, or to be eliminated between neighboring properties containing barrow pits or topsoil mining operations, again with the written permission of the abutting property owner.

In his letter, Valley noted the town doesn’t have a record of any written agreement that would reduce the buffer.

That notice of violation required Beasley to provide a remediation plan that would bring her property into compliance with the ordinance. While she said she submitted plans, they were not accepted.

With no remediation plan, Valley issued a stop work order at the end of July, which required Beasley to submit a written remediation plan that would be subject to the town’s approval, and then complete the plan.

At the end of September, Beasley’s longtime attorney Edward Dardis sent the town a formal notice of appeal and offered up the three grounds for appeal.

The first is that town officials issued a stop work order under the provisions of the town’s Land Use and Development Ordinance, which was last updated in 2011. Because the gravel pit has been in operation for decades before that, and decades before any regulation was imposed on gravel pits, it’s grandfathered, meaning that it’s exempt from those regulations.

The second is that the setbacks cited don’t apply in this case because Beasely maintains that no road or right-of-way exists and that despite requests, the town has offered no evidence establishing any legal interest of its own in Ballard Road.

The third is that the town’s code enforcement officer and selectmen improperly rejected the proposed remediation plan that Beasley submitted after town officials issued the notice of violation on the gravel business, and they gave her no written notice about why the plan was not considered satisfactory.

Dardis said earlier this week that he had only just received notice of the Appeals Board hearing in the mail on Monday and he wasn’t certain he would be able to obtain the evidence — certified copies of aerial photos of the gravel pit, for instance — or line up a court reporter or witnesses to testify in three days.

At the same time, the Dresden Board of Selectmen had asked the Planning Board to render an opinion on the land-use violation at the gravel pit at the Planning Board’s Monday meeting.

Both Dardis and Beasley objected to that move.

Under state law, Dardis said, the Board of Appeals is the equivalent of a superior court and has exclusive jurisdiction over appeals.

“They are not subject to selectmen interfering with the process,” Dardis said, “nor is it subject to the selectmen asking the Planning Board (for an opinion). What’s even worse is that it’s on virtually no notice, with no opportunity for the affected parties to appear, defend and present whatever. And it’s illegal to boot.”

In fact, the matter was not taken up by the board Monday.

Planning Board Chairman Jeffrey Pierce said after the meeting that he opted not to after consulting with the town attorney.

“Anything we did could be misconstrued that we were trying to weight the opinion (of the Board of Appeals) one way or another,” Pierce said. “The selectboard asked us for our opinion because obviously we deal with the land-use ordinance and they wanted our opinion of the stop work order.”

Normally, that would be fine, Pierce said, but in this case the matter is already under appeal. Any opinion of the Planning Board could not be part of the record, he said.

The Dresden Board of Appeals, which hasn’t met in several years, has scheduled a public hearing at 6:30 p.m., Friday in Pownalborough Hall to discuss the appeal. The meeting is open to the public.


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