March 10, 2010

Pike Industries can't profit from Blue Rock boss's ire

— WESTBROOK — On Dec. 26, 1968, Blue Rock employees poured explosives into drilled holes and blasted the top off Thompson's Hill on Spring Street.

The blast was ordered by Blue Rock's president, Philip V. Corey. The explosion punctuated a year-long series of City Council, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals meetings in a failed attempt by Blue Rock to gain approval for a quarry.

In an act that apparently was part civil disobedience, part protest and part vindictiveness, the 63-year-old Mr. Corey revealed his exasperation with a participatory municipal process and a changing culture of environmental appreciation.

The error of Mr. Corey's decision to blast was revealed this year on July 22, when the Westbrook Zoning Board of Appeals ruled that the current owner of the site, Pike Industries, did not possess a permit to legally operate a quarry.

In fact, the ZBA ruled that Blue Rock/Pike has operated illegally at the site since the 1968 blast. During the recent hearings, the ZBA members expressed incredulity that the zoning violation had continued for 40 years.

SPRINGS OF DISCONTENT

Even with 40-year hindsight, it is difficult to understand why a successful businessman would knowingly violate a local statute. Born in 1905 in Worcester, Mass., Corey followed the W.H. Hinman Company from Massachsetts to North Anson.

Described as industrious and independent, he worked for Hinman his entire life and assumed management of its Blue Rock division in the 1940s.

However, 20 years later, Mr. Corey encountered a changing culture of increasing environmental oversight in which he must have felt alienated.

On a national level, the Solid Waste Disposal Act (1965), Clean Waters Act (1966), Endangered Species Act (1966), Air Quality Act (1967), and National Environmental Policy Act (1969) all eventually led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.

Although today we consider environmental regulation a priority and a necessity to protect our shared resources, in 1968 this regulation was considered by some as unwarranted.

Mr. Corey was the product of a time of unregulated development and no governing environmental authority. In fact, when Mr. Corey first arrived in Westbrook, there was not even a zoning ordinance. The Department of Environmental Protection did not exist.

This was a time when merely possessing a deed entitled one to unrestricted use of property without regard to who was down-stream, down-wind or down the street.

CONFLUENCE OF CATASTROPHES

A confluence of environmental catastrophes in the 1960s forced political and business leaders to recognize the folly of an unregulated environment and to work to change the status quo. Remember smog in Los Angeles? Cleveland's Cuyahoga River catching fire? Raw sewerage pumped into Casco Bay? Ocean dumping of municipal trash?

Our national consciousness was shocked, and we embraced environmental laws to protect and preserve our collective quality of life. Into this changing atmosphere in 1968, Blue Rock submitted an ultimately unsuccessful application to open a quarry on Spring Street.

During the application process, Mr. Corey saw as meddling the fact that citizens now had a voice in locating environmentally disruptive activities.

Mr. Corey perceived Blue Rock as being the victim of a new paradigm where each of us had to consider the environmental impact of our actions.

A lengthy and unsuccessful bureaucratic process created in Mr. Corey a toxic mixture of self-righteousness and indignation that prevented his acceptance of a new era of ecological responsibility. The result was the 1968 Christmas blast.

Mr. Corey then attempted to mask the illegality of the Spring Street quarry. He claimed the new blast area was ''grandfathered'' based on proximity to a nearby lot containing a former city-owned quarry that was abandoned in 1956. It was this deception that the code enforcement officer uncovered and led to the recent ruling.

Mr. Corey retired shortly thereafter, in 1971, but he left behind this mistake that has finally been corrected.

— Special to the Press Herald

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