WESTBROOK–Neighbors of Pike Industries’ Spring Street quarry have formed a new group to fight the company’s ability to blast rock.

The group, called Westbrook Residents for Environmental Safety and Trust, believes that blasting by Pike could disturb bedrock in a nearby site, which contains hazardous waste and could cause contaminants to flow into the groundwater.

The site in question is at 2 Eisenhower Drive, which is adjacent to the quarry and now home to Pratt-Abbott Cleaners. The contaminants on the site come from hazardous waste left behind by a company called Unitrode, which manufactured electric circuits and was eventually bought by Texas Instruments.

But Pike says it has been aware of the contaminants for a long time, as has the Department of Environmental Protection, and the residents’ concern shouldn’t affect ongoing deliberations regarding Pike’s property.

Pike is not currently blasting on the Spring Street site, as ordered by a justice in Maine Business Court presiding over the quarrying company’s appeal of a decision by the city’s Zoning Board, which ruled last year that Pike never had the proper permits to quarry on the site at all.

Pike’s permits came into question after Idexx Laboratories, other neighboring businesses and residents came out in opposition of an expansion plan proposed by Pike in 2008. Opponents argued that the proposed expansion was not in keeping with a high-tech vision previously articulated by the city for the future of the area in and around the Five Star Industrial Park.

In response, then-Mayor Bruce Chuluda, proposed rezoning that land, including Pike’s property, from industrial to light manufacturing – a move that Pike said would put the quarry out of business.

The City Council in February was slated to vote on whether to implement the new zone. After a public hearing, the council tabled the issue until May in favor of trying to forge a compromise between Pike and its opponents. A steering committee was formed to work out that compromise and is currently in discussions.

Opponents of Pike’s blasting believe the potential disruption of the contaminated site should be a major consideration for the steering committee in its deliberations.

“It’s an explosive piece of the argument,” said George Rodrigues, a Westbrook resident and representative of nearby company, Artel Inc.

Rodrigues is not a member of the Westbrook Residents for Environmental Safety and Trust, but of Westbrook Works, the group of businesses and residents that’s long opposed Pike’s expansion and blasting. Many of the members of Westbrook Residents for Environmental Safety and Trust are also members of Westbrook Works. However, according to Tim Bachelder, the new group’s spokesman, its focus is exclusively on the concerns of nearby residents.

However, Jonathan Olson, Pike’s regional manager, says this new argument is not in the spirit of compromise and is merely a last-ditch effort by proponents of the rezoning effort.

“It’s unfortunate that this group is going outside the city’s process,” he said. “This is nothing new. The DEP’s been on top of it. The way they play it up, it’s really disappointing.”

Because Unitrode was licensed to use hazardous materials, the Department of Environmental Protection examined the site following its closure in the 1990s and during that review discovered that piping had leaked contaminants, which then ran into an aquifer, headed toward the Stroudwater River.

Harold Nilsson, an environmental specialist with the Department of Environmental protection, said Texas Instruments, which is responsible for the cleanup, installed treatment systems at the site in the ’90s. The department continues to monitor the water.

An order issued by the Department of Environmental Protection in 2003 requires that any digging or drilling of the former Unitrode site first be approved by the department. The neighborhood group hopes to extend that order to Pike’s property, according Bachelder, a resident of Spring Street and longtime opponent of Pike’s blasting.

Bacheleder said the information regarding the contaminants and his fear that they could get into the water and the air have become his biggest cause for concern regarding Pike’s ability to blast.

“Up until two weeks ago, I was worried about dust and vibrations and property values,” he said. “Now I’m wondering if I want to live there at all.”

Mark Stebbins, the mining coordinator for the Department of Environmental Protection, said he’s discussed the neighbors’ concerns about blasting near the contaminants with Nilsson, but its no news to the department that the quarry and the contaminated site are adjacent to each other.

“We’ve known that’s been there a long time,” he said.

Nilsson said the only way more contaminants can get into the water is if the bedrock is fractured, and he’s looked into whether blasting at Pike could cause fractures.

“There’s been no evidence found for that,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”

Stebbins was scheduled make a presentation in front of the steering committee overseeing the quarry issue Wednesday, after American Journal deadline. He said he had no plans to talk about the contamination issue, but could answer some questions if they came up.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant, a member of the steering committee, said members would discuss Wednesday whether they would like to hear from Nilsson at a subsequent meeting.

“Part of what we’re talking about (Wednesday) is what the committee wants to know between now and when we have to make a recommendation” to the City Council, he said.

Olson said he hopes the steering committee continues its work in the same vein it has been, taking into account the concerns of both Pike and its neighbors and working toward a compromise.

“We’re putting our faith in government to do the right thing,” he said.

Neighbors are concerned about the impact blasts at Pike Industries’ Spring Street nearby quarry could have on contaminants at 2 Eisenhower Drive, the former site of Unitrode and currently the home of Pratt-Abbott Cleaners.
Image courtesy of Google Maps


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