A saltwater intrusion could be “hydrologic disaster” for Lamoine

by Willem Brutsaert, Ph.D, Lamoine resident. (As published in the Ellsworth American 1/3/2018).

Dear Editor: Thank you for publishing my commentary, “Lamoine’s hydrologic gamble,” in The Ellsworth American of Dec. 20, despite its length.

Because of space constraints, I refrained from technical details, especially when dealing with the negative impacts on groundwater quality by removing the hill, i.e. Cousins’ Hill.

One such detail, apart from the removal of its filtering effect, relates to the fact that this hill, in groundwater hydrology context, is in close proximity to a saltwater body, namely Jordan River, and this makes that part of Lamoine’s sand and gravel aquifer by definition a “coastal aquifer” vulnerable to “seawater intrusion.”

Seawater intrusion is a natural phenomenon whereby saltwater occurs as a “wedge” below freshwater in coastal aquifers.

Freshwater being lighter than saltwater will “float” like a bubble on top of saltwater near the shore, according to the hydraulic principle of buoyancy (remember Archimedes’ “Eureka”). Infiltration from precipitation will keep the saltwater at bay. During extended periods of drought, the groundwater table will drop and this will cause the saltwater wedge to move (intrude) farther inland. This wedge will be “flushed” back again when the groundwater table rises during the wet season.

Due to this moving back and forth of the wedge, a mixing zone will exist between fresh- and saltwater. And here comes the big “however.” If we now remove the whole hill, permanently lowering the regional groundwater table, as explained in my commentary, the saltwater wedge will now permanently intrude farther inland below the freshwater. Add to that the fact that, due to global warming, seawater level will rise, and we may have a real hydrologic disaster on our hands: Salt water occurrence at much shallower depth and farther inland than is now the case.

No need to say that many household wells in the area will be affected. Based on the elevation of the water table with respect to mean sea level, and the density difference between freshwater and saltwater, one can calculate the approximate depth to saltwater before drilling a well, but that is a story for some other time.

Again, should Lamoine really gamble with its groundwater resources by removing the hill?

Willem Brutsaert Lamoine

Lamoine’s Hydrologic Gamble by Willem Brutsaert, Ph.D.

(As published in the Ellsworth American 12/19/2018).

The plan of an out-of-town sand-and-gravel operator, Harold MacQuinn Inc., is to remove the last remaining hill in Lamoine, located adjacent to the largest concentration of homes in Lamoine, near “Lamoine Corner,” an area generally referred to as the center of town. The incipient disaster is remarkably visible by anyone traveling to Acadia National Park along Route 3 in Trenton near the intersection of Jordan River Road and looking left (east) to the already scarred hilly horizon.

This last hill, locally referred to as Cousins’ Hill, was once part of an extensive ridge of hills, running more or less NNW-SSE, and parallel with Route 184, geologically referred to as an esker, which contains Lamoine’s sand and gravel aquifer. Unfortunately, this ridge of hills is now largely destroyed by a series of gravel pits that have already negatively affected the aquifer, severely decreasing its water storage capacity and increasing its vulnerability to pollution.

A permit application originally submitted in 2012 to remove the hill from its current elevation of over 250 feet down to about 30 to 40 feet of elevation, or about 60 to 70 feet below the adjacent road level, was denied by the Planning Board in 2014, resubmitted in February 2017, and denied again in December 2017. This decision was overturned by the Board of Appeals in June of 2018, despite a majority opposition of Lamoine residents. The Planning Board had no choice but to issue the permit to proceed. Friends of Lamoine, a group of concerned citizens with legal standing in this case, appealed the decision of the Planning Board. It is now up to a court of law to adjudicate this case, and that may happen soon.

Removal of the hill is a major disturbance of the landscape and will have serious hydrologic consequences. What is certain is that the removal will create a large pit that over a period of time will cause a profound lowering of the regional aquifer water table, creating a steep new water table gradient (slope) toward the pit pulling in water from every direction. During the operation of the project it will be necessary to get rid of the water flowing into it, gradually draining all springs that are now flowing out of the toe of the hill. The impact on one spring in particular, called “Cold Spring” flowing out of the southeast toe of the hill, is of major concern.

Cold Spring is managed by a publicly owned water company, established in the late 1800s, that provides water to more than 50 homes, to the Lamoine School, the Fire Department, the church, the Grange and an organic farmer. Cold Spring has always been reliable, flowing fairly steadily year-round, unaffected by weather conditions such as prolonged periods of drought or long periods of harsh winter conditions when frozen soils and snow cover prevent infiltration of precipitation. The only explanation for Cold Spring’s uninterrupted steady flow is that it ties in with the regional groundwater system of the hill. MacQuinn’s hydrogeologists, on the other hand, maintain that the spring is fed by locally “perched” water. This implies a shallow water table which would be vulnerable to the above described weather conditions and would cause intermittent water availability, causing Cold Spring to occasionally run dry. Water levels in observation wells just uphill from Cold Spring do indeed show water levels occasionally lower than the static water level of Cold Spring (elevation 137 feet). This means that occasionally there is no flow of perched water to Cold Spring. And yet the spring keeps flowing — thanks to its connection with the regional groundwater system. However, as the gravel pit gets deeper and deeper, all water will gradually start to drain toward it. This creates a strong likelihood that even the perched system will drain toward it despite its underlying layer of silt and clay. In heterogeneous deposits such as this hill, nothing is impervious. Unfortunately much of the analysis of MacQuinn’s hydrogeologists is based on extrapolation of a limited amount of data. Furthermore they disregard the existence of a groundwater divide just uphill from Cold Spring that effectively prevents much perched water from flowing to Cold Spring. A groundwater divide, sometimes called a hydraulic barrier, is a ridge in the water table that prevents water from crossing it.

A concluding statement by the Board of Appeals was, “There is one in a million chance that Cold Spring will ever run dry, ”( i.e. if the hill were to be removed). This supposition is absurd and misleading, reflecting ignorance of the concepts of regional groundwater flow.

No one must be given a permit that would risk causing Cold Spring to stop flowing. The Board of Appeals’ decision to require the Planning Board issue a permit for removal of the rest of Cousins’ Hill poses a serious threat not only to Cold Spring but also to the town’s ground water. The town cannot afford to play a game of chance with its most vital resource. I and many residents hope the court will find the Board of Appeals has erred in its interpretation of the ordinances and of their authority.

Willem Brutsaert is an emeritus professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Maine. He has professional experience in North Africa, Germany, Belgium, Colorado, New Mexico and in Maine. While at UMaine he taught courses in fluid mechanics, surface water and groundwater hydrology, open channel hydraulics and groundwater systems modeling. He is a resident of Lamoine.

Court Rejects MacQuinn’s Motion to Dismiss

Friends of Lamoine are suing the Town of Lamoine for the issuance of permits for expansion of Harold MacQuinn Inc.’s Kittridge Pit. The expansion would result in the removal of Cousins’ Hill at the center of Lamoine. The Lamoine Planning Board had rejected the permit application first in 2014 and again last December (2017), but the Lamoine Board of Appeals voted to overturn the Planning Board’s decision in what FOL contends is a misapplication of our ordinances. FOL’s suit was filed on August 7, 2018. MacQuinn’s attorney filed a motion claiming that this date was more than 30 days after the reversal decision, assuming the relevant date was the action of the Board of Appeals to overturn, (signed June 22), not the vote by the Planning Board, which occurred July 9. The Court stated in a decision on 22 Oct, 2018 supporting the FOL attorney’s arguments:

With the first hurdle behind them, FOL now looks forward to the formal filing of the appeal, which should occur in early November.



FOL Files Complaint in Superior Court

Lady Justice courtesy of https://voxpopulisphere.com

On August 8, 2018, John Steed, attorney for Friends of Lamoine, filed a Complaint to the Hancock County Superior Court. Also listed as Complainant was the Tweedie Trust, owner of property abutting the now-permitted Kittridge Pit expansion.

The reason for the Complaint is the opinion of FOL’s board that the Lamoine Appeals Board acted illegally to overturn the Lamoine Planning Board’s Site Plan Review denial of Harold MacQuinn’s gravel pit expansion application. The FOL team now has 30 days to prepare for a formal Appeal. FOL also seeks a Preliminary Injunction to prevent Harold MacQuinn, Inc. from beginning the removal of Cousins’ Hill in the heart of Lamoine while the matter is before the Court.

Since the Town of Lamoine had no choice but to issue the permits, the target of FOL’s Complaint is the Town. At the August 9 Lamoine Board of Selectmen meeting, FOL president Carol Korty read the following statement:

P.O. Box 963, Ellsworth, ME 04605

August 9, 2018

Dear Lamoine Board of Selectmen:

Board members of Friends of Lamoine come to you with deep concerns regarding the proceedings of the Board of Appeals and its decision to overturn the Planning Board’s denial of the Harold MacQuinn, Inc. application for a Site Plan Review permit to mine all of Cousins Hill.

The Planning Board’s decision to deny the MacQuinn application was founded on an enormous amount of quantitative data, testimony and letters of over 60 Lamoine citizens, and the Board’s conscientious considerations of all aspects of the application.  The Planning Board followed all guidelines and procedures. Their process and findings for denial of the application were fully documented and presented to the Board of Appeals.

Lamoine’s Site Plan Review Ordinance clearly directs that appeals of decisions by the Planning Board should go directly to Superior Court. Documents from Daniel Pileggi, attorney for the Planning Board, and Diane O’Connell, attorney for the Board of Appeals, clearly stated the jurisdiction and review standards for the Appeals Board.  Nonetheless, at great cost to the citizens of Lamoine, the Board of Appeals disregarded their counsel. Their actions, despite their expressions of good intent, unfortunately remain a disservice to town governance and to Lamoine citizens.

The citizens of Lamoine have expressed their strong support for the Planning Board and the gravel ordinances which guide its actions.  These citizens now need to be supported by upholding full adherence to those ordinances by Town boards.

We are meeting with you this evening as a courtesy.  It is with sincere regret that we inform you that we have filed a complaint in Superior Court against the Appeals Board decision (and subsequent Planning Board’s obligatory action) to grant Harold MacQuinn, Inc. a permit to mine all of Cousin’s Hill.

An option available to you is to spend no more of taxpayers’ money on defending the Board of Appeal’s baseless decision. If as a Board, you simply do not answer the Complaint and do not defend the Board of Appeal’s action, there will be no additional cost to the Town in this matter.

Sincerely, Carol Korty
President, Friends of Lamoine

The lawsuit will be before the Court for several years during which the fate of Cousins’ Hill will remain uncertain. Harold MacQuinn, Inc. may choose to continue mining unless the Court grants a Preliminary Injunction to halt activity. If mining continues and the permits are withdrawn, MacQuinn will be responsible for restoration.


Lamoine Appeals Board Decision: Dig that Pit!


At the May 22 Appeals Board meeting Chairman Hancock “Griff” Fenton, Vice Chair Jon VanAmringe and members Jay Fowler and Michael Jordan voted unanimously to overturn the Lamoine Planning Board’s denial of MacQuinn’s plan to remove Cousins’ Hill in the heart of Lamoine.

Town attorney Dan Pileggi representing the Planning Board, Appeals Board special counsel Diane O’Connell and FOL attorney John Steed all advised that the Appeals Board had no authority to override the opinions of the Planning Board on the individual criteria in the Site Plan Review Ordinance. Instead, they could only render a decision “involving administration procedures or interpretation of the ordinance”. Pileggi further advised in a March 12, 2018 memorandum:

“In its Board of Appeals application, Harold MacQuinn, Inc. has not alleged that the Planning Board committed any administrative procedural violation. Its appeal must therefore be limited to allegations that the Planning Board misinterpreted Site Plan Review Ordinance standards. To the extent that the Applicant contends that the Planning Board was simply wrong in reviewing the evidence, and in determining the weight to be assigned to specific evidence, or wrong in its interpretation of the evidence, this Board is not authorized to consider the appeal.”


In other words, the Appeals Board could only decide that the Planning Board erred in “interpretation of the ordinance”. And this is exactly what they did. They decided three criteria of the ordinance, which were those the Planning Board judged were not met by the proposed project, should be “not applicable”.  These three criteria, 1. Preserve and Enhance the Landscape , 10. Groundwater Protection and 17. Stormwater Drainage, they voted to be removed from consideration. These three criteria have been used to evaluate many projects including gravel pits in the past, and it is this old Site Plan Review Ordinance the MacQuinn team insisted be used for this “do-over” application. Ten other criteria were judged by the Planning Board to have been met by MacQuinn’s application, but the Board of Appeals decided it unnecessary to call any of those ten “not applicable.”


The Board of Appeal’s rationale for removing the three criteria which the Planning Board regarded as key for denying the MacQuinn application rested on three points. First, other criteria were deemed “not applicable” by the Planning Board: Articles 2, 4, 5, 7, 14, 15, and 19.  For example, Article 7, “Exterior Lighting” was so considered by the Planning Board since gravel pits have no exterior lighting. The Appeals Board concluded that since seven articles could be considered “not applicable” in the MacQuinn application, so could Articles 1, 10 and 17.

Second, since Gravel Ordinance criteria seemed similar to those of the Site Plan Review Ordinance, if the Gravel Ordinance criteria were met, so should be the Site Plan Review criteria. So the Gravel Ordinance criterion #1: “Will not unreasonably result in water pollution, nor affect adversely existing ground water, springs or ponds;” as overturned by the Appeals Board on May 8 and 9, was similar enough according to this logic to Site Plan Review article 10, Groundwater Protection. “The proposed site development and

O’Connell and Jordan

use shall not adversely impact the quality or quantity of groundwater in the aquifers or any water supply systems.” So according to the Board, even though the Gravel Ordinance does not mention water supply systems like Cold Spring Water Company, it is similar enough that the Site Plan Review criterion should be ignored.

Third, the Article 1, Preserve and Enhance the Landscape and Article 17, Stormwater Protection were tossed out because no other gravel projects in the past were rejected because of these. Board members asked rhetorically why this should be the case, to which one attorney responded, “It’s the scale of the project”.

On May 29, 2018 the Appeals Board will meet again to compose their “findings of fact” for their overturning of the Planning Board’s denial of MacQuinn’s Gravel Ordinance application. At this meeting they will also set the date for composing “findings of fact” for their Site Plan Review decision.

On June 4, the Lamoine Planning Board will meet but will probably not discuss the decisions by the Appeals Board until July as it is not on the agenda.

On June 7 the Lamoine Board of Selectmen will meet in executive session (6PM-7PM, approximately) and possibly decide when to meet with town Attorney Pileggi to discuss the Appeals Board decision or pending litigation.  The public will be allowed entry after the executive session ends. It remains to be seen what actions will be taken by the town, the abutters and Friends of Lamoine to bring this matter to Superior Court.


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