The Lamoine Board of Selectmen is tasked with reviewing the findings of the Gravel Work Group to decide whether a revision to the Gravel Ordinance is justified, and if so, what those changes should be. At the August 7 meeting, the Board of Selectmen directed the Town Administrator Stu Marckoon to compose a draft including rolling back pit setbacks from 100 feet to 50 feet or less, limiting the size of active pits and making renewal of permits contingent upon restoration.
At the September 11 meeting, the Board of Selectmen attempted to tackle the difficult subject of monitoring water quality and measuring “separation”, the space between the top of the water table and the bottom of the gravel pit. These are the aspects of the ordinance which seem most imposing to the gravel operators since they require drilling wells and the ongoing cost of water testing. The recommendation by the Gerber Report is for one well every 5 acres, and the Gravel Work Group report made no alternative recommendations, although they agreed this requirement was a hardship for small operators.
The discussion was wide ranging and somewhat confusing. Planning Board Chair John Holt was concerned that well and water quality assessment responsibility had been removed from the Planning Board by the Consent Agreements, and that renewal of permits seemed a pointless activity. He felt that a clarification was needed to more clearly define the Planning Board’s role.
A problem mentioned by the Board of Selectmen is the purpose for the water quality data. Should the data show a problem from gravel mining or perhaps a contamination incident, the ordinance has no provision for acting upon this information. Board member Nate Mason expressed the belief that once a problem is detected, the contamination would be widespread and therefore pointless to act upon and impossible to pinpoint the source. Others worried that the data would build up in the town office creating a space problem. Another comment was that the gravel industry is being singled out for water quality concern while many other businesses, like farming, have no such requirement.
Audience members attempted to respond to these arguments, remarking that the well requirements were based on the Gerber consultations, which the town paid for, and that establishing a “baseline” of water quality data would be useful down the road. The Gerber Memo saw this as protecting the gravel operator:
…it is very common for abutting property owners with wells to claim that a new gravel pit or quarry operation next to them somehow damaged the abutter’s well. Therefore, the gravel pit operator needs to protect himself by developing data on baseline quality and water elevation before the excavation starts and then monitor changes with time in order to have data to evaluate any abutter’s damage claim. [page 4]
Audience members also answered Nate’s concern by pointing out the slow progress of underground water. The Gerber report suggests “As a general rule of thumb the rate of travel of a …contaminant in sand and gravel aquifers is about one foot per day.” [page 6]. The Board of Selectmen decided at the end of the meeting that at the very least, the water quality monitoring requirement would only apply to the portion of the pit being actively mined or portions which are unrestored.
So far, at least two drafts of Gravel Ordinance changes have been issued. In the second draft on page 6, the water quality tests are scaled back from Gerber’s recommendation of 4 samples per year, reduced to two per year after 3 years, to one sample every 3 years for a 5 acre pit! At one foot per day a contaminant could move at most 1095 feet before detection rather than the 180 feet under the existing ordinance.
Administrator Stu Marckoon in a phone conversation has expressed skepticism that the revision will be ready for the November election. The Town website had crashed but is now back. Stay tuned. The decision could be made on 9/25/2014 at the Lamoine Board of Selectmen meeting.