BRIDGTON — Planning Board deliberations on whether a historically used gravel pit can be grandfathered into an ordinance protecting the Willet Brook Aquifer will continue into next week, marking nearly 11 months since the Sanborn family applied to restart operations there.

“Frankly, I’m not sure why we are still here a year later. In my view, this case should be closed. It’s black and white, preexisting use, which has already been established,” said Robert Sanborn, speaking on behalf of his mother, Katherine, who co-owns the property on South Bridgton Road with her brother, Philip.

In order for the Sanborn gravel pit, or “banks,” as Sanborn clarified, to be exempt from the Willet Brook Aquifer Protection Ordinance, there must be an established legal historical use of the gravel pit prior to 1992.

While the Sanborns and their attorney, Bruce McGlauflin of Petruccelli, Martin, and Haddow in Portland, say that the land has been used for gravel extraction since the 1950s, there have been conflicting conclusions about that date from both the Department of Environmental Protection’s mining specialist Erich Kluck and the town’s Code Enforcement Officer Brenda Day. The Sanborns contested portions of both individuals’ reports.

McGlauflin, the Sanborns’ attorney, said that Philip Sanborn “testified” that the gravel pit has been used since the 1950s, however, this must be confirmed independently by the town.

It is unclear why the historic date of the gravel operation cannot be readily determined. Day said she was unable to comment because the case is still under review.

Also of concern is whether the gravel pit existed prior to 1970, when the state Department of Environmental Protection enacted the Natural Resources Protection Act. If the gravel pit or one of the banks was established after this law went into effect and the owners did not obtain the proper permitting, it is illegal and cannot be grandfathered in to the Aquifer ordinance.

The historic legality and intended future use is of great concern to the abutting Bridgton Water District, said its attorney Andrew Pierce of the law firm Hastings Malia in Fryeburg.

“Robert Sanborn had just said that all they’re trying to do is get permission to continue to use their property the way it’s always been used, for their personal use, for their intermittent extraction. And that’s good to hear, but that would be news to us … We’ve heard all sorts of different numbers from the Sanborns about what they believe they’re entitled to do,” Pierce said at the July 21 hearing.

Pierce requested that any changes to Day’s report, who was on vacation at the time of the hearing, be delayed until she could explain her findings in person.

Pierce said they’ve heard numbers ranging from personal use to commercial use from the Sanborns at various points in time.

“But anything more than (personal use) is the part that scares my client. We are running the town’s water supply. If you start digging up in the ground, there’s all sorts of scientific literature that shows it can cause problems, it can muddy the waters in the aquifer. And that’s before we even get into leaks or oil spills form the machines or the trucks. We have to be really careful here,” Pierce said.

The DEP rules and regulations for mining, as well as the town’s ordinance, exist to protect natural resources such as the Willet Brooks Aquifer, which is operated by the Bridgton Water District. If mineral extraction for a gravel pit is dug too deep, for example, the mining can pollute the groundwater table, which could affect the town’s public water supply.

According to Planning Board Chairman Deb Brusini, the Sanborns first submitted their application on October 1, 2019. Since then, the  board has repeatedly delayed public hearings and deliberations on the gravel pit, citing the need for more background information from the Sanborns, site visit delays due to COVID-19 or procedural mistakes.

The public hearing and board deliberations will continue at next Tuesday’s meeting.

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