Towards the end of the last ice age, a warming earth began to melt the glaciers in Maine. The melt-water started to flow to the ocean under the ice, carrying with it the crushed stone generated by centuries of grinding. As with rivers, channels were cut as the flow quickened, but under the ice the channels were cut above the ground and over time they filled with sand and gravel. After all the ice melted these ribbons of gravel remained as elevated ridges which became tree covered hills pointing to the sea. These are called eskers, and Lamoine has some big ones.
During the first few hundred years of European settlement, these gravel deposits were used sparingly, a wheelbarrow or wagon load at a time. The gravel seemed limitless.
Even as late as 1956, as this topographic map shows, there was little or no gravel mining activity to the west (left) of Blunt’s Pond. So gravel mining in Lamoine was a traditional activity, but at a very limited level. Other spots on the map do show gravel pits, and they are small. Click on the link under the map to see the whole map.
In the 1981 topo map, which is still in use, a few pits can be seen next to Blunt’s Pond. But the contour lines, now measured in meters at 6 meter intervals, are more or less the same. Blunt’s Pond has an elevation of 52 meters (171 feet) above sea level, and the large crescent shaped area to the left is 66 meters (217 feet). I don’t know if the Goodwin pit was not in existence in 1981 or if the USGS was just lax in their updates, but if we lay over a Google aerial photo from a few years ago we see a very different story.
The topo map from 1981 is no longer accurate. Much of the 66 plus meter area is now around 13 meters (43 feet) lower. Gravel extraction is accelerating in Lamoine. A Google Earth flyover of Lamoine shows extensive excavation.
A substantial amount of Lamoine has been removed. Does this matter?
There are four reasons we should be concerned:
- Loss of our tax base. A one acre undeveloped house lot in Lamoine is assessed on average, at approximately $20,000. This means that the owner of the vacant land pays $186 dollars in property taxes. If someone builds a house there, the assessed value would rise to approximately $220,000. The increase would mean the town of Lamoine would gain an extra $1,800 to spend on schools and repairing the gravel truck-ravaged roads each year, all from one acre of land. Let’s apply the same tax analysis to gravel land. One particular 90 acre parcel of productive gravel land (see page 106) in Lamoine is assessed at $210,000 (2013). The out-of-town owner pays $1,953 per year in taxes to Lamoine. But when the gravel is gone, the land is basically worthless, because it has become a huge pit in the ground, too close to the water table to build septic systems. In that condition the 90 acres would be taxed at a few hundred dollars. If the pit owner were crafty, he could decide to just stop paying taxes until the town were to take over the lot for back taxes. An old gravel pit is essentially worthless real estate. In this case, its value left Lamoine, one truckload at a time.
- Another loss of our tax base. A study has shown that proximity to a gravel pit can reduce a home’s value over 20% if it is within ½ mile of the pit. Suppose you built that $220,000 house in in the example given above. Now suppose a pit owner just bought a lot adjacent to it and secures a permit begin excavating gravel from it. This permit would, of course, entail initially removing all trees and other vegetation and stockpiling the top soil. You just lost $55,000 on the value of your house and land, and the Town has just lost approximately $500 per year in taxes on your adjusted assessed value.
- Water quality. Hydrogeologists know that the eskers are where the ice age meltwater flowed and where the water flows today. Lamoine’s gravel deposits contain the clean water we eventually tap into for our wells as does The Cold Spring Water Company which serves 50 homes near Lamoine Corner, the school, the church, the cemetery, and the Grange. Springs abound around Blunt’s Pond, which is itself fed by a spring. What happens when the gravel is removed? Will the capacity to store, filter and transport fresh water be destroyed? Lamoine resident and professor emeritus in hydrology and engineering at UMaine Dr. Willem Brutsaert thinks there is reason to be concerned. Read his letter to the Ellsworth American here. He warns that, “strip mining sand and gravel off the top of an aquifer, removes the filtering effect of the sand and gravel protecting the quality of the underlying water supply….thus potentially exposing it to all sorts of pollution”.
- Nuisance. Many residents are disturbed by the noise of machinery, by dust, and by the steady stream of heavy truck traffic much of which spews exhaust and flying stones. Many residents are also disturbed by views of working pits which have transformed our rural landscape into industrial sites and views of expended pits as barren moonscapes or with spotty restoration.
Our group, Friends of Lamoine, worked to put the brakes on the gravel industry this year by halting its expansion. “Enough is enough!” was the slogan. The amendment to the Building and Land Use Ordinance, BLUO, we voted on in the June 10, 2014, referendum does, however, let gravel operators owning land that already had had a site plan review to continue mining there, once securing updated permits, but no expansion of those pits is allowed.
Our town has a history of farming, lumbering, boat building, fishing and more recently small family businesses. It is primarily a residential community today. Geographically, Lamoine is a small peninsula of limited land mass and roads of access and egress. As such, it is an inappropriate location for the heavy industry that gravel mining has become. Friends of Lamoine formed as a citizens’ group to prevent the town from becoming a wasteland gutted of this non-renewable resource and to advocate for the protection of the town’s natural resources and the aesthetic quality of its rural and marine landscape.