At the special meeting of the Board of Selectmen meeting of August 7, 2014, members held a wide ranging discussion about how they should change our gravel ordinance to integrate the final report of the Gravel Work Group.
The meeting started with instructions to the audience that vocal comments were barred, but written comments were allowed. After members signed approval for the new traffic light at the intersection of Rt. 204 and Rt. 3, Jo Cooper got the ball rolling with asking what the goals were and why changes to the ordinance were needed at all. She recommended caution. Other members voiced displeasure with the current ordinance: renewal of permits was too complicated, small pit owners suffered from setback increases from 50 to 100 feet and monitoring wells were, according to Bernie Johnson, redundant. He believed they could yield results which would create a nightmare for pit owners since pinpointing a pollution source would be difficult. On the aquifer issue, Bernie was under the impression that water flowed through the aquifer from one end of Lamoine
to the other, and so could be monitored with two wells. This is incorrect according to a letter written by UMaine geologist Harold Borns. We have requested his permission to post the entire letter on this web site for all to access. Selectman Johnson went on to state, “if these guys have got some test wells and nothing’s happened in the last 100 years it isn’t a guarantee, but…”. Jo Cooper responded, “There’s an issue with water. That it’s a resource that…you can’t close the barn door after it’s gone”. It is unclear if the Board will consider changes to the water monitoring provisions of the ordinance at a later date.
Town manager Stu Marckoon took some time to reflect on the negative aspects of gravel mining in Lamoine: unrestored “moonscapes”, noise and dust and uncertain water quality impacts. As the evening progressed, all members agreed that restoration of pits was a huge problem and one which any change to the ordinance should address. Still, all seemed stuck on reducing the setback to abutters to fifty feet from the current 100 feet. Stu wanted to use the reduction as an incentive to encourage restoration but Nate Mason thought this unworkable and thought the 50 foot rollback should happen regardless, and restoration should be a requirement for permit renewal.
Noise was briefly discussed as an ordinance issue, but not considered as something which should be changed. Bernie Johnson thought it only affected retirees, since most people left home for work, but Jo reminded him that people with health issues could be impacted by the noise of gravel crushers. The topic got back to restoration when Gary McFarland mentioned that restoration could include “noise deadening shrubs” which absorb the sound of the crushers. Heather Fowler complained that gravel operations are subject to special noise rules which don’t apply to others. She later recused herself from discussion about setback changes, since her family is in the gravel business.
The meeting’s final outcome was that the setback should be reduced back to fifty feet but that if this was a carrot, the stick would be restoration. surprisingly, every member echoed Jo Cooper’s sentiment that “nothing ever happens, restoration never happens”. Bernie Johnson saw the setback reduction as, “putting some money back in someone’s pocket” available for pit reclamation. Members instructed Stu to craft a change to the ordinance, using restoration as a requirement for permit renewal. Stu suggested the mantra, “no restoration is not an option”.
A brief discussion on what constituted restoration followed. Code Enforcement Officer Mike Jordan offered his definition. His inspections require four inches of topsoil and grass growth, the purpose of which was primarily erosion control. Nate Mason mentioned that he’s seen lifeless gravel areas 30 years old, and that topsoil is the key. All agreed that once the grass appeared, trees would follow. Also, all agreed that the “performance guarantee” should be removed. This is the small fund created to restore pits if the owners abandon them. It was felt that if restoration was ongoing, it would not be necessary.