Idexx Laboratories may look elsewhere to build a new $50 million building if a city committee accepts a plan Pike Industries will present Saturday to modify its blasting and rock-quarrying activities on Spring Street.

The Spring Street Quarry/Industrial Zone Steering Committee has been working for the past couple of months to figure out a plan that would allow Pike to continue operating on Spring Street without having a detrimental effect on Idexx and other neighbors.

On Tuesday, Idexx officials held a press conference to tout the 200,000 square-foot building and the 500 new jobs it could potentially bring to Westbrook. However, those plans to build the corporate headquarters are not new. In fact, Idexx’s belief that its expansion plans conflicted with those of Pike was what spurred the debate about the Spring Street quarry two years ago.

Dick Daigle, facilities manager for Idexx, said Wednesday that the company, which manufactures veterinary products, needs to move forward with the project. And if there aren’t enough limitations on Pike’s Spring Street operations, it will have to start to look at constructing the building elsewhere.

“We need to make plans. We need to decide where we’re going to put our additional jobs,” said Jonathan Ayers, Idexx’s chief executive officer, at the press conference.

The steering committee was formed in February, after the City Council tabled the controversial issue of whether to rezone land in around Five Star Industrial Park, including property owned by Pike and Idexx, from industrial to light manufacturing.

Pike officials have said the new zone’s limitations on quarrying would put its Spring Street operations out of business. But Idexx, other neighboring businesses and nearby residents argue that the new zone is imperative for protecting them from the negative effects of Pike’s blasting.

The steering committee has been trying to determine what the actual effects of the blasting are and how they can be minimized. Taking the neighbors’ concerns into consideration, Pike plans to show the committee on Saturday how it can continue operating without disturbing nearby homes and businesses, using the latest blasting technology, according to Pike’s attorney, Tony Buxton.

After Idexx’s press conference Tuesday, Pike held one of its own in response. That’s where Buxton spoke in general terms about Pike’s upcoming presentation.

“We are confident that the proposal, if accepted, will further diminish the impact of the quarry on others,” he said at the conference.

The steering committee is scheduled to make a recommendation to the City Council in May, but, Daigle said, Idexx could start talking to other communities about hosting the corporate headquarters before then “if we have a sense of where this is going.”

Throughout the many public hearings in front of local boards during the past two years, neighboring businesses and residents have presented their concerns. Artel Inc., which takes precise measurements of liquids, says the reverberations from Pike’s blasts interfere with its work. Television stations WPXT and WPME, on Ledgeview Drive, say the blasts interrupt their recording sessions. Neighbors say they worry that the foundations of their homes are being compromised.

But Idexx has never said that the effects of the blasting are detrimental to its work. Instead, the company believes quarrying operations are incompatible with a high-tech vision for the future of the industrial park that Idexx said the city presented to the company in 2006. That vision, Idexx officials say, is what sold the company on settling in Westbrook and planning its expansion, including the corporate headquarters building, in the city.

“You wouldn’t want to move into a neighborhood that’s in decline,” Ayers said Tuesday.

When Idexx purchased its first building on Eisenhower Drive in 2006, the company presented an eventual plan to build its corporate headquarters on a piece of land across the road on the corner of Saco Street. In 2008, the company decided it would instead build the headquarters adjacent to its existing facility and went to the city’s Planning Board for a sketch plan review.

Around the same time, Pike came forward with a proposal to build an asphalt plant at its Spring Street quarry. Idexx threatened not to move forward with the construction of the headquarters if Pike were allowed to build the asphalt plant. That’s when then-Mayor Bruce Chuluda proposed rezoning the land to light manufacturing, which prohibits asphalt plants.

Since then, Pike has taken its expansion proposal off the table, but more and more neighbors have joined Idexx in attempting to limit the quarrying company’s operations on Spring Street.

Idexx’s lawyers also dug up the quarry’s permit from 1968, and claimed that Blue Rock, the quarry’s former owner, never met certain conditions of that permit. The city’s Zoning Board ruled last year that those conditions were, indeed, never met, which could render the permit invalid and prohibit Pike from quarrying on the site at all.

Pike appealed the Zoning Board decision to Maine Business Court. Chief Justice Thomas Humphrey handed down a decision on the case on Monday, upholding the Zoning Board’s ruling. However, Pike won’t be forced off the property yet. The court will soon take up the second part of the appeal, in which Pike claims that, regardless of whether the permit’s conditions were met, it wouldn’t be fair to take away its ability to operate the quarry 40 years later, when the city has knowingly allowed quarrying on the site all along.

“There are all kinds of moving parts,” said City Administrator Jerre Bryant, a member of the steering committee.

Though the court could eventually determine that Pike can’t operate on Spring Street at all, the committee’s focus remains on addressing neighbors’ concerns without pushing Pike out of the city.

Bryant said he hopes Pike’s presentation on Saturday reflects “a fairly comprehensive response to the issues that have been raised through the steering committee process.”

Jonathan Ayers, CEO of IDEXX Laboratories, unveils plans for a $50 million expansion project at their Westbrook headquarters on Tuesday morning. (Staff photo by Brandon McKenney)


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