WESTBROOK – Pike Industries Inc., the company about to begin its controversial quarry operation on Spring Street in Westbrook, began construction blasting on a temporary basis this week. But whether it’s a problem for neighboring residents and businesses depends on where you are and what day it is.

The blasting began on May 12, and local residents said the noise and vibration weren’t that bad.

“I really didn’t think it was that loud,” Ronald Daniels, 69, who lives at 690 Spring St., across the street from where the blasting occurred, said that Thursday. “It was just a second, and that was it. It was done.”

But a blast on Monday prompted a different reaction in the Birdland neighborhood.

“I jumped out of that green chair,” Josephine Peterson, 69, of 59 Oriole St., said Tuesday while pointing to a chair in her living room and describing her reaction to the Monday blast.

The company began work after receiving blasting permits from the city. The blasting, according to city and Pike officials, will be temporary, as part of construction of an access road. The company is expected to finish its blasting prior to June 9, and can only set off a total of 10 blasts.

Many residents and businesses in the Spring Street and Birdland area have been railing against the company ever since Pike officials announced more than a year ago that it wanted to resume work at the decades-old quarry in earnest, including future blasting occurring on a regular basis.

The most prominent critics of the quarry have been Idexx Laboratories, Artel Inc., Smiling Hill Farm, and a group of concerned residents in the nearby Birdland neighborhood. They argue that the ongoing quarry blasting will be unpleasant to listen to, as well as disruptive to both business and their quality of life.

The city got involved when executives at Idexx, the manufacturer of veterinary testing and water testing equipment, disclosed they were considering not building a $50 million corporate headquarters, which would employ approximately 500 people, in the city because of the Pike quarry.

Last fall, the city struck up a consent agreement with Pike, later upheld by a Cumberland County Superior Court judge, that satisfied Idexx’s concerns, but other critics remained angry enough to file two separate lawsuits appealing the agreement.

Artel and Smiling Hill Farm are jointly appealing the agreement in Maine Supreme Judicial Court, while a collection of Birdland residents has sued the city in Superior Court, also as an appeal to the agreement.

For the past week, Pike has been working on building an access road, which would divert the Spring Street entrance to the quarry down to another part of the street, creating a hill and treeline buffer zone between the quarry and residences on Spring Street, according to Jonathan Olson, Pike’s general manager in Westbrook.

Artel, which manufactures sensitive fluid-measuring equipment, remains a vocal opponent to the Pike quarry. In a last-ditch effort to block the company from blasting, Artel sent a letter on May 12 to Code Enforcement Officer Rick Gouzie, asking him to revoke Pike’s blasting permit “until Artel (and possibly other interested parties) can have a reasonable opportunity to seek relief from your decision to issue a blasting permit to Pike.”

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said last week that the city would review Artel’s letter, but did not anticipate the city would interfere with Pike’s blasting.

“Pike has complied with all aspects of the city ordinance and the consent agreement. Otherwise, Rick wouldn’t have issued the permit,” Bryant said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, City Engineer Eric Dudley said Pike had set off three blasts, one on May 12, another on May 16, and a third on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 17.

Phil Cilley, 70, who lives at 668 Spring St., was out cutting his grass on the afternoon of May 12, after Pike had set off its first blast.

“It sounds like thunder,” he said.

Cilley said he was more worried about sewer and gas lines underneath his driveway, and worried about prolonged blasting shaking his house once Pike resumes work in the quarry.

“If it gets to that, I think I’ll sell my place,” he said.

Mercier Bonney, 59, who lives just down the street at 648 Spring St., is also a staunch Pike critic. She said she is worried about noise and dust from Pike’s trucks, and hopes the access road will help with the problem.

“Obviously I would prefer that they were not there, but if it’s going to go forward I think the road will be better, and protect us from the sound,” she said.

On Tuesday, an American Journal reporter sat in a car, with the driver’s side window open, on the side of the road on Spring Street at the Eisenhower Drive intersection, right in front of where the blast zone begins. A flashing sign indicated a blast would take place at 1 p.m. At exactly 1 p.m., a series of air horns sounded, and a flagman in the road stopped traffic. There was the sound of a dull thump, and a slight vibration that was barely heard and felt over the sounds of idling traffic, then the horns sounded as traffic began moving again.

Just after the blast, residents in the Birdland neighborhood reported hearing more than just a gentle thump. Gary Swanson, a vocal critic of the Pike quarry who lives at 67 Oriole St., said Tuesday’s noise was bad enough for him to call the city and complain.

“That was as bad as I’ve ever felt it here,” he said. “It was quite startling.”

Just around the corner from Swanson, Carol Gallant, at 52 Finch St., said the explosion on May 12 wasn’t that bad.

“I felt, ‘OK, I can live with this,’” she said.

But Tuesday’s blast was much worse, she said.

“You heard it rumbling in the ground,” she said, adding that it shook her house.

On Tuesday afternoon, Dudley said the city received some complaints about the blast. Dudley said he did not have information from Pike on how much explosives the company used in each blast, and the city did not require that information, only a measurement of noise and dust levels.

That data, he said, will be provided by Maine Drilling and Blasting, and Haley & Aldrich, two demolitions and engineering firms hired by Pike. Dudley said the firms have done work throughout Maine for years, and have a solid reputation for accuracy of data. Dudley said he expects to hear reports from the firms within a few days.

Dudley also pointed out the Birdland neighborhood may be more exposed to the sound, as opposed to the Eisenhower Drive intersection, which is somewhat shielded by a hill. In addition, Dudley said, cloud cover tends to hold sound closer to the ground, which might explain why blasts this week seem louder than the one on May 12, which was a sunny day.

Dudley added, however, that it is possible Pike was simply using more explosives.

“It could be a combination of both,” he said.

Whatever the reasons, many Birdland residents in particular, including Josephine Peterson, were upset Tuesday, and some blamed Mayor Colleen Hilton for putting Pike’s interests first.

“You can tell Mrs. Hilton she can sit in my living room right now and feel the blasts we’ve been feeling,” she said.


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