An old debate between the city of Westbrook and Blue Rock Industries could shed new light on the current conundrum that’s pit two of the city’s largest taxpayers, Idexx and Pike Industries, against each other.

Pike Industries, which proposed an expansion of its Spring Street quarry earlier this year – and will return to the Planning Board next month with a revised proposal – has yet to respond to an argument by Idexx Laboratories that the company isn’t properly permitted to blast rock on Spring Street at all, much less, to expand its operations.

Idexx’s attorney, Bill Plouffe, of Drummond Woodsum, put together an inches-thick book of documents, pictures and newspaper clippings outlining a 40-year-old debate about permits between the city and Blue Rock, which was purchased by Pike in 2005.

According to Plouffe, in 1968, the city’s appeal board gave Blue Rock approval for a quarry, asphalt plant, crusher and cement plant, under several conditions, including that the City Council had to approve the plan, as well.

After neighbors came out in opposition, Plouffe said, the City Council decided not to approve the project. Rather than appealing to Superior Court, Blue Rock started operating the quarry anyway, challenging the city to stop it. But, he said, the city never did.

“Here we are, 40 years later, same argument,” said Plouffe, who handed the city his findings in September.

Plouffe said it will be up to Pike to find documentation of proper permits, but neither he nor the city has heard from the company or found those documents.

Jonathan Olson, Pike’s regional manager, said Plouffe’s findings have been reviewed by the company’s legal counsel, and they aren’t about to back down because of them.

Olson said Pike plans to return to the Planning Board with a new proposal for an asphalt plant in December. City Planner Molly Just said Monday she had yet to receive a new plan from Pike, but expected one soon.

Staff and elected officials were caught in a bind when Idexx, which develops, manufactures and distributes veterinary tests and equipment, told the city in March that if Pike’s plans were approved, it would likely not move forward with building its corporate headquarters, which was discussed when Idexx was negotiating for a tax increment financing agreement with the city.

In an effort to stop Pike’s expansion and ensure that Idexx would stay, Mayor Bruce Chuluda proposed rezoning the land between Spring and Saco streets – including Five Star Industrial Park and Pike’s property – from industrial to light manufacturing. The Committee of the Whole tabled the issue in hopes that the two companies could reach a compromise, and the city wouldn’t have to chose sides between two of its biggest taxpayers.

Negotiations between the companies broke down in June, and though Pike said it was willing to adjust its site plan to appease neighbors, the alternative plan that was presented still didn’t satisfy Idexx.

“We bent over backwards for them,” Olson said last week about the company’s attempt to compromise at that time.

When Pike returned to the Planning Board in July, it presented its original plan, again putting the city in a position where it would have to chose between the companies.

In weeks following that meeting, Pike representatives said they were working on a new plan, removing a second quarry and a permanent rock crusher from the proposal, which Idexx and other members of WestbrookWorks, a group of residents and businesses against the expansion, saw as an insignificant improvement.

Olson said last week that the proposal Pike plans to bring to the board next month has been “scaled back a lot” from the original.

But regardless of Pike’s changes, Idexx hopes that its findings will give the city confidence that rezoning the property to allow Idexx to move forward with its expansion won’t be stripping rights away from the long-time rock crushing business.

“We don’t believe they have grandfathering rights,” said Dick Daigle, director of facilities management for Idexx. “We’re not taking anything away from them.”

Council President Brendan Rielly said,though Idexx’s findings are interesting, he’s still waiting to hear from Pike before he can be swayed to rezone the land.

“There are almost always two sides to the story,” he said.

With asphalt demands down as winter approaches, Rielly said, there’s no immediate deadline for the city to decide what it will do, and it will continue working with Pike as it brings a new plan forward.

“My goal all the way through this is to get the two companies to work together,” he said. “That’s still where I am.”

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.

filed under: