A judge has refused to delay a civil trial involving the city of Westbrook and Pike Industries, as parties in the case hasten to reach a new agreement to allow Pike to operate its rock quarry and satisfy nearby residents and businesses.
Critics of the process are questioning the need for speed.
On Friday, Justice Thomas Humphrey denied the city’s motion to continue the trial. Pike has sued Westbrook, claiming that it should be allowed to mine its quarry off Spring Street because the city has allowed it for years. The trial is set to start Sept. 13.
On Monday, the City Council tabled its decision on a consent agreement reached last month by Westbrook officials, Pike and Idexx Laboratories. The deal would limit Pike to eight blasts a year, limit the intensity of the explosions and restrict truck traffic to an average of 45 vehicles a day.
During the hearing that preceded the council vote, residents protested that they hadn’t been heard in the process that produced the agreement.
Bill Dale, the city’s attorney, said the Westbrook Works coalition of businesses and neighbors raised 10 concerns at the meeting that it thought the agreement had neglected.
Since Monday, Dale said, the city has held two more “negotiating sessions,” which included neighborhood representatives, to address their concerns.
The city has scheduled two more sessions, for Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, he said. And Mayor Colleen Hilton has called for a special City Council meeting Wednesday night.
Dale said the council will be presented with the new consent agreement and asked to vote on it.
The agreement addresses the 10 concerns, said Dale, which mainly close loopholes.
One change would prohibit Pike from operating an asphalt plant near its maintenance garage.
Another would require further groundwater monitoring for an adjacent property where contamination has been detected.
A third would spell out how many times Pike could blast when it builds a new road to its property.
If the City Council approves the plan, the judge may reconsider the motion to delay the trial at a hearing Thursday morning, Dale said.
“What’s the judge going to say? That’s the million-dollar question,” said Dale.
Hilton said she believes the issue should be “settled in our own community, not in a judge’s chambers.”
She said she hopes the modified agreement will win the council’s approval Wednesday night.
“I really am hopeful. I think it addresses the issues they raised. I’m hopeful they will find this latest proposal satisfactory and pass it,” said Hilton.
Dick Daigle, facilities manager for Idexx, said there’s a lot to be discussed in the two meetings next week.
“I think the city has a very aggressive schedule,” he said. “If this cannot be resolved, we are prepared to go to court.”
Idexx and other high-tech businesses that operate near Pike in Westbrook’s Five Star Industrial Park have been trying for months to limit or eliminate blasting in the quarry.
George Rodrigues, chairman of Westbrook Works, said he thinks it would take weeks to understand the changes made in the agreement.
“If the council votes on it, they’ll be voting on a document they haven’t had a chance to study,” said Rodrigues, who works for Artel, a business that opposes blasting in the quarry. “It’s a big mistake.”
Warren Knight, whose family owns nearby Smiling Hill Farm, said he thinks negotiations need an outside mediator but Pike and the city are rushing to get an agreement passed to avoid a court hearing.
“Setting a self-imposed deadline, I think, is wrong,” said Knight. “You’re hurrying something that doesn’t have to be hurried.”
Knight said the civil trial should proceed, and the parties could continue to work toward a settlement. Smiling Hill Farm and Artel are intervenors in Pike’s lawsuit against the city and have opposed the delay.
But Tony Buxton, Pike’s attorney, said the farm and Artel want no blasting at the site, so a compromise agreement is not in their favor. They have a chance to block any blasting through a court trial, Buxton said.
“Everything they’re doing, everything they’re saying, is for one purpose — to make sure there is no compromise,” said Buxton.
Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: