WINDHAM — The town is digging in for a legal battle over a proposed quarry near Forest Lake after the developer filed a lawsuit in Cumberland County court this week.

Jim Pross, an Auburn-based lawyer representing Elvin Copp and his son Randy Copp of CSG Properties and Copp Equipment, told the Windham Town Council at its meeting Tuesday that the lawsuit was filed earlier that day in Cumberland County Superior Court as a result of the town’s emergency moratorium on all new mineral extraction activities.

The council originally passed the 180-day mineral extraction moratorium in April after Forest Lake area residents repeatedly filled Town Council and Planning Board meetings to express concerns about the Copps’ proposed quarry.

The quarry proposed for a more-than-100-acre site off Lakeside Drive is within the town’s farm zone, which allows for mineral extraction activities. According to the moratorium, the section of the town’s land use ordinance dealing with mineral extraction has not been reevaluated since 2010.

The moratorium was passed as an emergency measure, meaning the council had to vote within 60 days to extend it for the full 180 days.

“This moratorium that’s been adopted is unlawful, and to protect our client’s rights, we filed that lawsuit in court today,” Pross told the council, imploring them to also consider the “secondary economic benefits” of the quarry proposal.

He argued the town had not established the necessity for the moratorium and that it unfairly targets his clients.

“It’s not only unfair, fundamentally at it’s core, but it’s also discriminatory under Maine’s Constitution,” Pross said. “We have to protect our clients’ rights and protect them from any continuing discrimination.”

Pross also told the council that voting Tuesday night to extend the moratorium “could have an impact on the course of the litigation.”

Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman then used her gavel.

“Excuse me, are you threatening the council and the town of Windham with that statement?” Chapman asked. “I don’t like to have threats in council chambers.”

Council Vice Chairman Bob Muir asked Pross when he notified the town about the lawsuit, and Pross indicated that his comments to the council were that notification.

“That’s great,” Muir said sarcastically.

Chapman then put a stop to any further back and forth since the town did not have a lawyer present.

“Let him threaten all he wants, but you guys are doing the right thing,” said Margaret Pinchbeck, a former member of the Planning Board and vocal critic of an existing Shaw Brothers Construction quarry near her home on Nash Road.

Randy Copp told the council in April that he was willing to take time to work through concerns about the project.

Copp said Tuesday night that he “didn’t want to see it get to this point, either” but that based on state law, he had a window of time in order to file a challenge and protect his personal property rights in the process “or those rights are forever lost.”

A Copp employee also addressed the council and said that concerned residents “haven’t met with us once, they don’t want to meet with us.”

Several members of the public urged the council to continue with the moratorium, and councilors eventually voted 5-1 in favor of the extension.

Muir emphasized his vote in favor of the moratorium extension by standing up from his seat.

Councilor Clayton Haskell was again the lone vote against the measure – citing his general opposition to moratoriums as a practice.

“I think you united this council, and I think a bunch of us are pretty ticked,” Councilor Jarrod Maxfield said in remarks directed to the developers and their legal representation. Maxfield said the lawsuit forces the council to entrench and called it a “ridiculous move.”

Maxfield also said he didn’t care for the “good cop, bad cop stuff,” an apparent allusion to Copp’s more conciliatory tone in comparison to his lawyer’s.

Chapman cited the importance of protecting the town’s water resources and said she was initially going to offer an amendment limiting the moratorium to new mineral extraction in the town’s impaired watersheds, but the lawsuit changed her calculus.

“So yes, we can do this,” Chapman said about the moratorium. “I’m thankful we have a good attorney. I guess I’m going to need him tonight for the town. I’m sad it did come to this.”

Councilor Rebecca Cummings said she had been reading a book on Gettysburg, and compared the town’s protection of its water bodies to the pivotal Civil War battle. She compared Chapman to General Joshua Chamberlain and said the town water bodies are “our hilltop.”

“It’s not going to fall,” Cummings added.

Town Manager Tony Plante said Wednesday morning that the town had no indication about the legal action before Tuesday night, and that he expects town attorney Stephen Langsdorf of Portland firm Preti Flaherty will represent Windham in the suit.

Matt Junker can be contact at 781-3661 ext. 123 or at:

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MattJunker

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