WESTBROOK – Mayor Colleen Hilton remains hopeful that the city can find a compromise to allow high-tech industries to coexist at the Five Star Industrial Park with a quarry operated by Pike Industries.
But it won’t be easy.
The committee she formed to craft that compromise met Wednesday and recommended a list of safeguards to protect residents and surrounding businesses from the adverse effects of mining. The recommendations will be the subject of a public hearing next week, and may eventually be forwarded to the City Council.
But on the crucial issue of how much blasting — and by extension how much mining and associated activity — can occur at Pike Industries’ quarry, the committee remains divided.
A slight majority favors allowing double blasting six to eight times a year, to let Pike mine enough rock to stay in business but limit the number of blasts that neighbors and nearby businesses endure. Double blasting is seen as a way for the company to work two sides of its quarry at the same time.
Other committee members said they would favor no blasting, leading Spring Street resident and committee member Bruce Chuluda to declare the compromise effort doomed.
“We’re pursuing a consent agreement when there’s no consent around,” said Chuluda, a former Westbrook mayor.
Chuluda said the potential loss of jobs if the gravel pit continues to operate in the industrial park far outweighs the impact of losing Pike’s operation. He urged the committee to abandon the attempt if most residents at next week’s hearing agree.
The stakes are high. Idexx Laboratories says it plans to build a $50 million expansion that would house 500 new employees — but not if Pike can expand its quarrying operation.
Hilton said the committee’s work may yet yield something that’s acceptable to everyone.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a recommendation at the end of this process,” she said after Wednesday’s meeting. “There’s got to be a compromise.”
While the committee seeks a compromise, lawsuits are pending, with the city challenging Pike’s right to mine at its quarry and Pike challenging the city’s attempt to ban it.
City attorney Bill Dale told the committee that if the Superior Court judge sides with Pike — that it has a right to do some level of mining there — that would trump any local ordinance.
The only ruling so far went against Pike. Justice Thomas E. Humphrey ruled on April 5 that the quarry had not been in continuous operation, which would have made it exempt from new zoning. The case could be decided this summer, but an appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court could take another year, Dale said.
The committee chose not to recommend a limit on how much material could be mined, saying the limit on blasting would limit the overall activity, which includes stone crushing and truck traffic.
Pike has said it would have to blast 20 times a year to mine enough to pay for the new equipment and property improvements that the city wants to see, like enclosed rock-crushing equipment and an earthen berm to block the view and sounds of the operation from neighbors.
Steven Hudson, an attorney for Pike, said the city’s requirements are exacting but he commended the committee for its efforts. “We were pleased to see a strong majority of this committee trying to strike a balance,” he said.
He said the company will consult with experts to determine whether blasting twice during the same day would be feasible.
Councilor Victor Chau initially recommended allowing just six blasts a year, which he said was the average number there for the past five years.
Dick Daigle, director of facilities for Idexx, said the company doesn’t need a ban on blasting but does want the quarry to be limited to the amount of activity it’s had in recent years.
The committee also recommended a manufacturing zone for the industrial park, which would make mining there illegal. If any consent agreement with Pike is adopted, it will supersede that prohibition.
The committee also recommended a set of standards for any quarry operation in the city.
The committee scheduled its public hearing for 6 p.m. Wednesday, at Westbrook Middle School if it’s available. It is scheduled to forward its recommendation to the City Council on May 3.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: