WESTBROOK — Even while Warren Knight was being processed at the Cumberland County Jail on Saturday, he said, the jail staff told him how much they enjoyed the ice cream from Smiling Hill Farm.
And it was his determination to defend that family business that landed him in jail, according to Knight.
“I am willing to do whatever it takes to protect and preserve our farm,” Knight said Monday while sitting at a picnic table on the 500-acre property that’s been in his family for nearly 300 years.
Knight was arrested Saturday morning on a charge of criminal trespassing on Central Maine Power Co. property, where he said he was trying to observe Pike Industries blasting rock at its Spring Street quarry.
Knight, 53, is president of the Smiling Hill Farm and has been the farm’s spokesman in a protracted legal battle with Pike over its activity at the quarry next to the farm in Westbrook. Other neighbors of the quarry – including Idexx Laboratories, Artel Inc., television stations WPXT/WPME and residents – also opposed Pike’s operations there after the company announced expansion plans in 2008. But all the other neighbors have since reached agreements with Pike or bowed out of the court case.
Pike did not blast rock last year because of the ongoing court case, said Tom Spellman, Pike’s crushing manager for southern New Hampshire and Maine.
“We’re moving forward. We feel we have met all the obligations,” Spellman said of Pike’s responsibilities to its neighbors. “We’re ready to operate the quarry the way it should be.”
Smiling Hill Farm is still fighting Pike in court, however. The farm’s main contention is that there is a 100-foot vegetated buffer between the quarry and Pike’s property line with other neighbors. Between Smiling Hill Farm – which is on County Road – and the quarry is a strip of cleared land owned by Central Maine Power and a 20-foot vegetated buffer on Pike’s property.
“I don’t want to have to look back or have the next generation look back and ask why they didn’t do more to protect us,” Knight said.
Pike’s first blast since 2011 was scheduled to occur at 3 p.m. on Friday. Knight, along with his siblings and parents, went down to the property line about an hour earlier, he said.
Their purpose, Knight said, was to observe the blast, to experience what it looked and felt like.
Spellman said workers on the site routinely survey the surrounding land before a blast to make sure no one is nearby. That’s when they saw the Knights, told them they were in unsafe proximity to the blast and asked them to leave. Warren Knight said no.
The Knights own part of the property occupied by Central Maine Power, which has an easement on the land. Police weren’t sure whether Knight was on the family’s property or CMP’s, so no arrest was made and the blast was not conducted, said Westbrook police Capt. Tom Roth.
Spellman said employees, as required by law, had to stay at the site overnight while undetonated explosives were in the ground.
The next day, Roth said, a surveyor determined the property line and concluded that the Knights had been on the power company’s land.
Warren Knight returned to the spot Saturday morning a couple of hours before the rescheduled blast at 10 a.m.
He said he was asked to leave by a few people, including Spellman, but asserted that he was not on Pike’s property and had a right to be on CMP’s land.
John Carroll, a spokesman for CMP, said the company’s property is not marked and is generally open to the public. But, because Knight was causing a disturbance, the company gave police authority to remove him from the land. Carroll said CMP did not ask for Knight to be removed.
A few minutes after his conversation with Spellman, Knight said, police officers arrived and told him he had to leave the property or he would be arrested. Knight said he handed the contents of his pockets to his brother, told the officers he would not leave willingly and offered himself up for arrest. He was handcuffed and taken to the jail.
Knight said his family stayed on its own property and videotaped the blast while he waited for the bail commissioner.
Knight said he was not trying to prevent the blast from happening, but was trying to make a point – that the buffer between the quarry and his farm is not enough protection.
“We wanted equal treatment,” said Knight, who believes if a house were there – and not farmland – Pike would have built a bigger buffer.
“The truth is, we were discriminated against because we’ve chosen to preserve our land,” he said.
Spellman said Pike would have gone through with the blast if Knight had been on his own property and not at the property line between Pike and Central Maine Power.
Knight was released after a $60 bail commissioner’s fee was paid and is scheduled to appear in Portland District Court on Nov. 19.
He’s prohibited from being on the CMP property next to the farm as a condition of his bail. Pike is scheduled to blast again on Friday.
Knight said he had not yet been notified about the blast and didn’t know whether he would do anything about it.
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:firstname.lastname@example.org