Willem Brutsaert: Save and Protect Lamoine

We are lucky to have Willem Brutsaert living here in Lamoine. He is a retired professor of Hydraulics and Hydrology at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the The University of Maine, so he knows what he’s talking about:

BrutLetterLamoine faces a major decision with long-lasting consequences pertaining to a referendum question on the ballot of the upcoming June 10 Primary Election regarding changing the Building and Land Use Ordinance. This commentary is addressed to the people of Lamoine who might have been incorrectly influenced by the shortsighted and miss-guided phrase on the numerous “VOTE NO” signs along Lamoine’s roads these days.

A NO vote means continued destruction of Lamoine’s Rural and Agricultural Zone (most of Lamoine) and the destruction of its sand and gravel aquifer, Lamoine’s sole-source water supply. A YES vote in support of the referendum question, is a vote to “save and protect” Lamoine from further destruction: “No new gravel pits”.

Think about the future of Lamoine. Growth will inevitably continue. Lamoine will need the above-mentioned resources, that is, the rural-agricultural area and its concomitant water supply. A YES vote will “save and protect” Lamoine and ensure a sustainable future for Lamoine. A NO vote will protect the non-resident one percent, whose only interest is to clear-strip Lamoine of its landscape.

As very, very temporary stewards of this small space, called Lamoine, we have a deontological responsibility, a moral obligation, to “save and protect” Lamoine’s common good for the benefit of our progeny. If Lamoine votes NO, one day it will regret not having voted YES when it had the opportunity.

BrutLetter2Now, speaking as a groundwater hydrologist-engineer, 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, and in the case of Lamoine, the sole-source water supply, thus potentially exposing it to all sorts of pollution, and don’t tell me this will never happen in Lamoine, no matter how careful one might be. The idea, expressed at the public hearing of May 22 on the referendum question, that any potential pollution of Lamoine’s aquifer would come from the north of BrutLetter3Town, from as far away as Lucerne, or that any local pollution would quickly be flushed out, is incorrect and ludicrous, since most pollutants of concern, that is, hydrocarbons such as petroleum products and solvents, are immiscible with water and either adhere to soil particles or get trapped in “dead end” pores. These trapped hydrocarbons subsequently slowly biodegrade and very slowly dissolve in water, causing problems for our water supply for many years to come. A perfect cleanup is impossible. Another major negative effect of removing the sand and gravel is that the storage capacity of the aquifer is totally being eliminated, because, in applying the five-foot above the water table limit rule for extracting sand and gravel, there isn’t a very serious attempt to determine the “seasonal” high water table. And, we haven’t even discussed climate change and the effect it will have on the seasonal high water table. If precipitation is expected to increase for the northeastern US as predicted (many scientists are already reporting observable increases*), then all currently active and planned gravel pits are in deep trouble. When I last visited MacQuinn’s gravel pit north of Lamoine, I was literally driving on top of the water table! On that day, water was visible between the pebbles at the bottom of the pit. Lack of space prevents me to go into further detail within the framework of this forum.

*See for example the Commentary “On Global Warming” by W.Brutsaert, The Ellsworth American, 12 September, 2013; or The American Geophysical Union’s position statement on Global Warming and Climate Change: “Human Induced Climate Change Requires Urgent Action”, August 2013.

Willem Brutsaert, Resident of Lamoine
Emeritus Professor of Hydraulics and Hydrology
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
The University of Maine

Steven Callahan Letter

Lamoine resident and author of NY Times best seller Adrift, Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea and consultant for the movie Life of Pi has weighed in on Lamoine’s gravel issue in this letter he wrote to the Board of Selectmen, dated 30 April, 2014:

Dear Select People,

CallLetter1Sand and gravel open-pit mining in Lamoine has become a very hot-button issue. This should be no surprise because, basically, pit operators, especially non-resident large-pit operators have proven themselves to be very bad neighbors for many years now, and the problem continues to grow worse. Many residents who have no financial interests in these pits, especially those of us who live bordering or near large pits, feel exploited and under attack. These pits primarily benefit only the pit operators while imposing significant liabilities on Lamoine citizens.   Yes, we all understand the need for sand and gravel, but to use that, as a rationalization to let pit operators create their own regulation is a dog that won’t hunt. Let us be honest; enough material comes out of pits in Lamoine in a year to do all the groundwork ever done in this town, probably many times over. Are we obliged to become an industrial wasteland to provide sand and gravel to the whole state, and in some cases, out of state? I really don’t think so.

I’ve been a Lamoine resident since 1977 when my wife and I purchased an old farmhouse from Joe Hodgkins, a member of one of the oldest families in Hancock County, and forty acres that we have sought to improve. The original property (prior to Joe’s selling a lot off the west side) bordered a sand and gravel pit owned originally by Aubrey Davis and now owned by Goodwin, recently referred to as the Marlboro Pits. The active pit rests close to our line and Mr. Goodwin owns additional property abutting a substantial section of our south line.

CallLetter2We had no problems with Aubrey and his small-pit operations, but as soon as Mr. Goodwin bought the land abutting ours and began expanding the old pit, it became a nightmare. When he purchased additional land on our south side, Goodwin immediately clear cut the property, including every tree on our abutting line, resulting in substantive blowdown damage to our land. The cutters also left huge amounts of brush both on the line and into our land. It’s my understanding that neither the cutting of all trees on a line or leaving brush all over it is legal. At the least, it is indicative of his total lack of concern for neighbor’s interests. Noise from ordinary pit operations carries easily to our house site about a half mile away, and on weekends it actually gets worse because people use the pit as a shooting gallery. With automatic weapons fire and even some kind of cannon, it often sounds like a war zone, literally. Bullets have flown well past the property lines, and I am afraid to walk on the back portions of my property in summer.

CallLetter3From my view, however, erosion of soil, reduction of nearby property values, and the threat to water remain the biggest costs of strip mining for sand and gravel. Standards in some states to reclaim all pits at a 4:1 (horizontal run per foot of height) ratio well exceed Maine standards, but it is hard to find any old pit walls in Lamoine that even meet the 2.5:1 ratios required by Maine’s DEP. Perhaps setbacks from abutting property lines might be more effectively related to pit depth than a fixed number, but it seems obvious by just looking at many pit walls that crawl up to current setbacks that the eventual sloping of these walls will erode into neighboring land.   In short, many pit operations, even if meeting current regulations, amount to the taking of abutters’ lands. Also, little is known about the underground waterways in Lamoine. On our side of the knoll that separates us from the Goodwin pit, one can tap into water in as little as 16 feet below the surface in selected spots. There also is wetland on the crown of this property with waterways close to the pit line that might easily be drained should pit operations accidentally tap into them. Finally, it is clear to anyone who has lived anywhere around a pit that land located anywhere within the vicinity is significantly reduced in value, if not becoming completely unmarketable.   I sure wouldn’t buy it. Would you?

CallLetter4These issues, as well as pollution and heavy-truck roadway problems, are well known. What is a mystery is why the town does not assess these pits at a rate much higher rate than other land that is being preserved or actually improved, especially as pit land actual value erodes as mining operations continue, which severely reduces tax value and income over time.

The bigger mystery, though, is why the town does not see fit to fight for its legal right to regulate the pits as its citizens see fit, even to ban pits outright should the citizens so choose. If one were to assume that the town had no right to regulate or even prohibit heavy industry and open-pit mining, on what legal ground does the town have to regulate land use in any way at all? It makes absolutely no sense that the town prohibits, for example, manufacturing facilities in the rural and agricultural zone but allows pits. Many manufacturing operations can easily be made unobtrusive and quiet with minimal impact on the environment and neighboring land values. Lamoine even requires housing developments over a certain size to set aside land for public use and prohibits building tall houses. In fact, the town regulates personal property in numerous ways that are much more stringent than the most onerous envisioned for sand and gravel pits. By not defending its right to regulate these pits, or even ban them, does not Lamoine open itself up to multiple lawsuits by anyone seeking to undertake operations that are less destructive in the same zones, or for that matter by residents whose properties are damaged by mining operations or are made to adhere to other town regulations? Is this not unequal treatment under the law?

CallLetter5In addition, one need only look at the town map to see that almost none of the town is zoned Residential, including “down town” East Lamoine, the Seal Point Road, and other areas that fit the definition of densely populated. If these areas are not Residential, why not? The proposed alteration of the land-use ordinance to prohibit further pit operations from the Rural-Agricultural Zone only rectifies the discrepancies between how these zones are actually used. If this proposed alteration is not approved, perhaps it is time to re-zone the town to put a much greater part if it into the Residential Zone.

It seems clear to this resident that large-pit operators have declared war on Lamoine and its citizens, not only via the damage they do to their own and neighboring properties but also via their now-dropped lawsuit against the town with the clear threat to re-institute it should they not get their way. So far, the worst of the pit operators have done little but to antagonize their neighbors and leave behind near-useless and valueless land. It’s pretty easy to find old pits in this town, but how many meet standards of reclamation? I’ve seen no sign at all that these operators have any intention except to continue their grab-and-go approach until Lamoine becomes nothing more than a mining town and, eventually, a wasteland.

CallLetter6For many of us, then, even proposed rules do not go nearly far enough. The money set aside for pit reclamation is, I believe, completely inadequate, and the penalties for not reclaiming pits toothless. So what if the town puts a lean on an unclaimed pit; the pit operator has already sucked it dry and so why not just let the town have the hole in the ground? The point is, Lamoine residents already did compromise a great deal to establish some reasonable regulations of open-pit mining yet pit operators insist on additional compromise. We believe we have the right to protect our properties and the character of the town into which we have invested our lives even more than pit operators have a right to exploit their land.

I hope that all pit operators will begin to show some interest in creating a sustainable long-term relationship with the residents of Lamoine, which includes acceptance of reasonable regulation, a prohibition of future pit operations in the Rural and Agricultural Zone, and the creation of an earnest reclamation program for both new and abandoned pits. If, on the other hand, they insist on continuing the onslaught against residents, they are likely to find an increasingly aggressive movement against them.   Simple appeasement of pit-operator demands may not result in the end of legal challenges either, but give rise to more. I would hope that the town Selectpeople and resident small-pit operators realize that those who oppose large and minimally regulated pits actually have been forced into their positions, and that resident-pit operators would be better served by working with other residents, as they always have, rather than against them.


Steven Callahan