Editor,

In the upcoming election on Nov. 7, there is a local referendum ballot issue that has become an emotional and political issue.

That issue is a proposed amendment to the current mineral extraction ordinance. As the ordinance is written currently, any mineral extraction operation, i.e. gravel pits and quarries, is allowed in almost any zone in this town. That means next door to schools, homes, businesses, farms, anywhere there may be minerals/rock to extract.

The purpose of the amended ordinance is to allow for stricter setbacks and tighter regulations to assure that citizens with homes and businesses have some layer of protection from such an operation. In the current ordinance, the setback from the quarry to a residence is 200 feet. The amended ordinance is asking for a 1,000-foot setback from the nearest structure.

One thousand feet is a long distance, but there has to be some recognized setback to allow an abutter to have a buffer of protection and privacy from the magnitude of an operation such as a rock quarry. Also, the edge of the pit can be closer to abutting residences with the abutters’ permission.

There seems to be a major misconception of this particular change in the ordinance – an existing operation does not have to meet that new amendment (unless they were permitted after Jan. 1, 2005) if they choose to enlarge their operation. If the operation is already there and is a working pit, it is grandfathered.

The current ordinance does state that if you intend to expand more than five acres, a new permit for that expansion is warranted and that language has not changed in the amendment. If a developer were to purchase property in a different location not attached to their current operation, then the amended ordinance would apply.

According to the current ordinance any working operation is suppose to be repermitted every five years. The amended ordinance requires Planning Board approval every five years. One Planning Board hearing every five years should not be difficult for a responsible business owner, and it allows the Planning Board to make sure the gravel pit or quarry is operating, as it should be.

Hours of operation, blasting, traffic, noise, dust – these are all addressed in the amended ordinance and are not set up to detain or stop a business, but to give the citizens and property owners the right to privacy and the quality of life that was expected when houses were built and businesses were opened. Remember, in the current ordinance, those homes and small businesses are not protected just because they are already there, they are the ones who have to fight for their rights as property owners.

Another topic of misunderstanding regards exemptions. Under the current ordinance the removal of any amount of sand, gravel, or loam from a site is an exempt activity if it is undertaken as part of an approved on-site construction project (building a home), is part of a normal farm operation, or the sand, gravel or loam is being moved to a contiguous site having the same ownership or is being used by the owner for their own use. The proposed amended ordinance does not change any of this wording. There have been many discussions about not being able to use your own property resources like people have in the past and that is not true if you fall into the exception category, which is not being changed.

I urge everyone who has an interest in this ordinance to read over the current ordinance and read the proposed amended ordinance. It is available on the town Web site, and copies can be picked up from the Town Clerk.

In your ballot on Nov. 7 there will be a printed version (four pages) of the proposed ordinance and this shows deletions and additions of clauses and wording for your review.

This is just one of the many ordinances in this town that must be reviewed and amended. This particular ordinance includes gravel pits and mineral extraction operations such as a quarry, in the same ordinance. This is how the existing ordinance was written and it has not been changed.

Again, this proposed ordinance amendment would allow homeowners and businesses to have some protection for their privacy and quality of life that was expected when they became property owners. I guess the question for the citizens of Windham is: are you willing to take a chance of such an operation showing up in your residential area? If you are, vote against the proposed amendment, but if you are concerned and want to have the right to protect your private domain, please vote to accept the amendment on Nov. 7.

Becky Hagar

Windham


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.