WESTBROOK – Westbrook residents and businesses are unhappy they’re in the dark about negotiations among the city, Pike Industries and Idexx Laboratories on an agreement that could allow Pike to operate its controversial Spring Street quarry with some restrictions.

However, the city says the negotiations are private because they involve the potential settlement of a lawsuit that Pike filed against the city.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said the agreement will become public as soon as it is ready to go to the City Council for a vote – which he hopes will happen sometime in August.

Still, residents and businesses are voicing concerns about a lack of information while negotiations are underway.

Tim Bachelder, a Spring Street resident and spokesman for a neighborhood group called Westbrook Residents for Environmental Safety and Trust, said, “It bothers me that residents don’t have a seat at the table as this is going forward.”

George Rodrigues, chairman of Westbrook Works, a coalition of businesses and residents in the area, said, “We would like to know more about what’s currently happening. We have no idea.”

And Warren Knight, president of Smiling Hill Farm, which is located near the quarry and is a member of Westbrook Works, recently filed a Maine “Right to Know Law” request with the city for a copy of the draft agreement, but was turned down.

Knight said he’s worried about what might be in the draft.

“I just feel that something is going on behind the scenes,” he said.

Smiling Hill Farm and Artel Inc., another nearby business, which manufactures instruments for measuring liquids, are intervenor parties along with Idexx to the lawsuit against the city that Pike filed in Maine Business Court last year. The city says Pike has no legal permit to operate at the Spring Street quarry, but Pike contends in its lawsuit that the city is unfair to now deny it the right to operate a quarry when it knowingly allowed quarrying there in the past.

The case is set to be heard on Sept. 21.

However, Bryant said, the talks are about reaching an agreement to settle the case out of court and that’s why they’re not public.

“This is basically negotiating a settlement to litigation and therefore is not subject to the Right to Know Law and obviously would potentially compromise a settlement if the terms in the process are discussed,” he said.

Bryant said that anything agreed to would have to go to the City Council for a vote, at which time it will become public.

He said that the council would not take that vote behind closed doors, but “in public, with a full public hearing and full public input.”

While Smiling Hill and Artel are involved in the lawsuit as intervenors, they are not included currently in the negotiations because the city is focused on getting Pike and Idexx – the leading opponent of blasting at the quarry – to agree on terms first, Bryant said.

“The city to a certain degree is the mediator here,” he said.

When those two parties agree, Bryant said, the consent agreement would go to Smiling Hill and Artel for their approval.

“They’re not excluded in the process,” he said. “It’s just where they are in the process. We’ve got to take it one step at a time.”

But, Knight said he’s concerned that by the time he gets to give his opinion on the consent agreement it will be too late.

“If they get an agreement between Pike and Idexx nobody else will matter,” Knight said.

He said he has heard that Pike wants to be allowed unlimited blasting to move an entrance road to its property. Also, Knight said, he heard that Pike is seeking additional blasting if it’s necessary to keep an area that’s already been blasted safe.

Knight said those proposals, if they are included, are unnecessary. He characterized them as a way for Pike to do “an end run around” limits on blasting.

Pike representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Knight’s allegations.

Bryant said he can’t discuss details of negotiations, but said that, in general, the consent agreement is going to be based on the recommendations made by a city steering committee formed to reach a compromise that would allow Pike to continue operating on Spring Street.

The Spring Street Quarry/Industrial Zone Committee has recommended a consent agreement that would limit the company to blasting eight times a year at the quarry.

Pike had proposed to the committee that it be allowed to blast 20 times per year. Idexx only wants Pike to blast six times a year at lower intensities and to limit the amount of rock it extracts from the quarry.

Idexx has said that without such restrictions, it won’t go through with plans to build its $50 million headquarters building in Westbrook.

Residents and businesses say they also have some concerns with the recommendations made by the steering committee.

However, Rodrigues and Bachelder said they hope that the interests of neighbors and small businesses will get a full hearing when the consent agreement proposal goes public.

“We don’t really feel that we have a seat at the table at this point, but we are hopeful that the City Council will listen to us,” Bachelder said.

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