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Gravel Work Group

Minutes of March 20, 2014

Selectman Jo Cooper called the meeting to order at 7:00 PM

Present were: Work Group members Jo Cooper, Steve Salsbury, Jay Fowler, Perry Fowler, Michael Jordan, Valerie Sprague, Donald Bamman, Richard McMullen; Secretary Stu Marckoon, Planning Board chair John Holt, Robert Christie, Lynn Hutchinson, Selectman Gary McFarland and Paul MacQuinn.

Jo said the public comment time will begin at approximately 8:15 PM. She said the public can always submit comments in writing.

Process Document – Jo summarized the latest version of the work group's process document, and no more changes were proposed.

Jo said she would ask the new chair of the Board of Selectmen to take over chairmanship of the working group at the next Selectmen's meeting, and that she would not be a part of the group. There was no objection.

Task List – Jo passed out a task list that she had grouped into topic areas, and reviewed the topics. No other topics were offered by the group.

Task – Setbacks – Don Bamman noted there are two areas within the setbacks that were identified as needing discussion – property lot lines and natural resources. He said there are some amendments to the current ordinance on the table that town meeting will decide next month. He said the town meeting could relax the new setbacks, and apparently the 50-foot setback is a big issue. Jay Fowler said the increase to 100-feet is a big issue, especially with a 2.5:1 slope, as it puts a lot of material off limits to pit operators.

Richard McMullen asked if an operator could dig straight down, and then fill in with other materials in the restoration process. Perry Fowler said under the old ordinance you could not. He said the amendment proposed to the new ordinance would allow digging only go to the slope of the cut. There was a brief discussion about safety issues and slopes.

Jay said there is a lot of money left behind with the new setbacks and slopes. He said he's not sure what the amendment would gain. Perry said in the previous ordinance an abutter could grant permission to the pit operator to go within 10-feet of the line. He said the new ordinance is now telling the abutter they don't have the right to grant such permission, and possibly sell such rights. He said the reason stated was to protect future land owners. Jay said there should be some rights to landowners and discussed what impacts a goat farm located next to him had on his property. Jo asked she was hearing correctly that the new ordinance ties the hands of both the land owner and abutter. Perry said that was correct.

Valerie Sprague said the setbacks are in place to lessen the impact from noise, erosion, and decreased property values. She said a 100-foot setback is not that much and the town has to think of everybody. She said she can hear a nearby gravel operation, and she lives 500-feet away. She said she was here for the small homeowner. Michael Jordan said if someone owned next to him, they have the right to say no to mining closer than the ordinance generally allows.

Perry Fowler said he's not talking about future gravel pits – he said the issue of grandfathering current pits is where he was headed with the discussion. Richard said if there were a new pit proposed it should be at least 100-feet from a house. A discussion followed regarding a 100-foot setback. Jay said most pits are not located against somebody's house lot. He said the current ordinance stopped the grandfathering of the pits. Jo noted the ordinance attempts to protect all sorts of things.

Perry said if the pit owners have already obtained site plan review, they are banking on the gravel available to make their living. He said if a new pit is proposed, he is fine with a 100-foot setback. A brief discussion followed.

Jo said the ordinance does not distinguish between new and existing operations. Don said the ordinance essentially treats all permits as “new”. He asked if the pit owners would be satisfied if the ordinance gave some options. Jay said the renewal process is a big deal to the pit owners. Perry said he would like to give some options that would give an abutting landowner some say in granting permission. A discussion followed on the impacts of setbacks on residential property owners.

The group discussed grandfathering as a major issue. Jay reviewed some of the various changes to the gravel ordinance over the years. Stu suggested a possible flatter slop being allowed the closer to the property line setback. A brief discussion followed about that as well as the view impacts of abutting properties to gravel pits.

Setbacks from Natural Resources – Jo said she understands the definition of natural resource is a concern. Don said the major concern seems to be the required 250-foot setback from a wetland. Michael said the definition of wetland is an issue. Don said the Shoreland zoning ordinance definition is an issue. Valerie asked if there are many wetlands and how they affect a proposed pit. Don said vernal pools are an issue.

Michael suggested the DEP standards could be used and a discussion followed. Jay said while the setback from a Shoreland is 250-feet, the setback from a stream is 75-feet and a brook has a bigger impact. He said 10-acres of wetland is how DEP looks at things. Perry said it might make sense to adopt the DEP setbacks from wetlands. The group asked to get a printout of those rules. Don had a copy and read them.

Restoration – Jay said all the pit owners/operators have been performing restoration activity in order to get new permits. He said the restoration has to show up on the maps submitted at permitting time. He said the Planning Board inspects the pits every three years and the Code Enforcement Officer inspects every year. Perry said not everyone is doing restoration. Don said there are different scopes of operations and the Planning Board does not see as much restoration in big operations as it does in the smaller pits. A brief discussion followed.

Jay said some gravel demands differ in where a pit operator is going to dig. He said that's why a lot of area in a pit is open. He said some pits require a lot of room for material storage.

Perry said the new restoration standard that requires payment based on the amount of material removed is fine, and what's in place now should work. Stu said he's leery of the bookkeeping requirements especially when it comes to accounting for other organizations' money. Perry said there should be an arrangement where the pit owner verifies that deposits have been made and the town has to co-sign for any withdrawal from an “escrow” type of account. Jay said the previous ordinance allowed withdrawal in order to pay for restoration activities, but the new ordinance does not allow for withdrawal until after restoration is confirmed. Jo said there is some concern that money withdrawn might not be used to perform restoration.

Valerie asked why restoration costs so much. Perry said the cost of grass and trees is pretty high. Jay said equipment time is also costly. A lengthy discussion followed on ways to monitor and approve withdrawals from restoration funds. Among the ideas discussed were 1/3 distributions over the span of the restoration project, and the issue of what happens should a gravel operator go out of business. Also discussed was some formal agreement to allow the town to restore a pit if need be.

Future topics – Steve Salsbury said he would like to see water quality and monitoring wells addressed next. He said that would likely take a while. Jay Fowler said he would also like to see the renewal process discussed.

Next Meeting Dates – After brief discussions the group agreed to meet on Monday, March 31, 2014 at 7PM, Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 7PM, and Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 7PM.

Public Comment – Bob Christie said there is a difference between perception and reality, and said it would be helpful to see a pit to see what a slope and restoration actually look like. He said he would like to be educated and was also interested in the delineation of small, medium and large pits. He suggested that some pits might be re-used especially for affordable housing.

Paul MacQuinn thanked the group for being willing to work on the various issues. He said that when his company purchased the Kittridge pit, 10-foot setbacks were allowed. He said the new ordinance has shrunk the allowed setbacks and that's a big deal. He said the group is here because of the taking under the new ordinance. He said grandfathering of the site plan review approvals should be honored. He said the taking issue is pretty severe. He noted that the DEP allows for a line of credit and a bond that has to be posted. He said that in the case of the Kittridge pit, millions of yards of gravel will have to be extracted before the restoration could even start. He suggested possibly placing a cap on the amount of money that has to be set aside for restoration. He said the DEP has very good rules on setbacks from wetlands.

Lynne Hutchinson introduced herself as a graduate student doing field work on dispute resolution. She said she chose the gravel issue for her work. She said she planned to identify the stake holders and have conversations with them. She said she is unbiased. Jay said he's only interested in the truth being told.

Don handed out a list of pits that was compiled by Gordon Donaldson.

There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 8:25 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Stu Marckoon, Secretary