Town of Lamoine, Maine
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Gravel Ordinance Working Group
Minutes of May 1, 2014
Chair Gary McFarland called the meeting to order at 7:00 PM.
Present were: Work Group members Perry Fowler, Gary McFarland, Jay Fowler, Richard McMullen, Steve Salsbury, Michael Jordan, Don Bamman, Val Sprague, David Legere; Administrative Assistant Stu Marckoon, member of the audience Catherine deTuede
Minutes of April 17, 2014 Mike Jordan asked for clarification of how many gallons flow out of the aquifer by the Jordan River. Jay said he believed it was 7,500 per minute. There were a couple of other minor corrections to the minute and Mike moved to approve with the corrections. Perry 2nd . Vote in favor was 8-0 (David not yet present).
Services of a Geologist Gary reported the Board of Selectmen discussed hiring Robert Gerber. He said that Steve had drafted a letter to Mr. Gerber. He said the town should be the one to contact him since it would be the town hiring him. The tentative meeting dates are May 15, 29, June 5 or 19. He said there is a $2,000 cap.
Mike asked about the questions asked of Mr. Gerber in Steve's letter. Steve said he got them from the meeting minutes. Gary read the draft letter question and asked if there were any to add. Don said he would like to know if Mr. Gerber recommends separation monitoring wells be dug to water level or just deep enough to show that separation is met without hitting water. Gary said that issue was discussed at the Planning Board meeting earlier in the week. Perry said he didn't see any sense in having a dry well. Don said sometimes a pit operator will dig a 10-foot well and find no water and say that the separation is OK. Jay said the depth in the past was 15-feet.
There was a discussion about Mr. Gerber's price. Steve said it would be helpful to have him present to answer questions. A discussion followed about his availability and preference for daytime meetings. The group said a Saturday meeting might work.
Perry moved to send a letter as revised to Mr. Gerber asking to secure his services for the group. Mike 2nd . Vote in favor was unanimous.
Renewal Process - Mike said under the current ordinance, there is no provision for a permit renewal all permits are considered new. He said a permit should be renewed as long as the operations are within the guidelines granted when the pit operators obtained the permit. He said it would be like changing a road setback and telling people they would have to move their house.
Jay said the previous setback was 25-feet and that was increased to 50-feet and now the setback is trying for 100-feet. He said that took away a tremendous amount of material from the pit owners for no real reason. He said there was no catastrophe from gravel mining. He said pits should be grandfathered instead of having to apply for a new permit each time. He said the current process is wrong and expensive.
Val asked how the process was simplified in the 2013 ordinance. Mike said it is not simpler. He said the pits initially had to go through site plan review, and that would be set for the life of the property. He said the gravel permit was separate, and the ordinance got rid of the site plan review requirement and melded it into the gravel permit which makes it very expensive. He said applications have now become very extensive. Val asked if the process is all in one application. Mike said it is, and the pit operators need to apply for a permit every three years.
Perry said the Site Plan Review Ordinance was not created for gravel pits but for commercial building projects. He said gravel pits fell under site plan review and there was a one time permit which was good for the life of the pit, and a gravel permit which had to be renewed every 3-years. He said the new ordinance is like starting over from scratch.
Val asked if the Site Plan Review Ordinance was for restoration. Mike said it was to look at the land to see what it could handle. Don said it was a way to take a broader look at the impact of various items and the impact on the whole community. Jay said the Site Plan Review items are hard to pin down. Steve said there are 10 or 12 subjective criteria.
Don said before the new gravel ordinance was passed, pit operators still had to bring in mapping. Steve said that was correct, but the process was not as onerous. Richard asked why the previous site plan review had to be generated every three years under the new ordinance. Don said the Planning Board thought it would be easier and that redundancy would be eliminated. Perry said the Planning Board believed it would streamline the process. Steve said that isn't how it worked out.
Gary asked if there is a way to streamline things. Steve said there absolutely is and suggested adding a section to the ordinance creating a renewal process. Perry said it should still require updated maps and a site visit. Mike said it should require proof of compliance with the current permit. A discussion followed on the potential renewal process.
Jay said it's not like anyone is getting away without doing restoration. Perry said that lack of restoration was one of the problems that led to the new ordinance. Jay said if restoration was not performed, the permit should be denied. Don said the Planning Board has run into issues of excavated areas not being restored, or not enough of it being restored.
Perry said the current ordinance says nothing about renewal. He said the fear from pit operators is that an application could be denied. Jay said the decision could just be a matter of a few people's opinions. A lengthy discussion followed about zoning changes and their impacts on landowners.
Gary said it seems clear that the Working Group will have to make a suggestion to the Selectmen in regard to adding a permit renewal process. Stu asked what areas the Planning Board sees as important for renewal. Don said it would be helpful to hold the old and new ordinances side by side. Perry said the key word is renewal. Stu asked if that meant the entire group wished to add a renewal section to the process. There was considerable opinion in favor of that.
Jay said in the previous ordinances the permits were considered renewals, and now they are treated as new pits at permitting time. He mentioned a petition that will be voted on in June that would ban new pits and said the current pits would all be considered new pits when their permits expire. Perry pointed out the petitioned question would exempt those pits with Site Plan Review approval. Don asked how many pits have such approval. Mike said all of them. Jay mentioned again that the ordinance changes over the years have caused operators to lose a lot of gravel.
Perry said a new map and site visit would be important for renewal. David asked what happen if a landowner has 200-acres and mines only 25, but then wants to mine 25-more acres would it be new or a renewal. Mike said the Site Plan Review should cover the entire property. David said they used to be separate permits. Don said most of the operators tended to think big. There was a discussion about moving the gravel mining footprint on a parcel. Valerie asked if the Site Plan Review permits expired. Perry said they do not.
David asked how many acres received Site Plan Review approval and how many acres are being mined. He said there is the potential to double the size of open pits. Mike, Perry and Jay said that was not correct.
Stu said there is some tax assessment strategy in the permitting process and explained how permitted area is valued significantly higher than non-permitted land holdings by the same company.
Mike said the mapped, permitted areas seem to be shrinking. He said the Planning Board was just interested in the area currently being mined. David said it sounds like the gravel mining operators have come up with a way around taxes. He said he doesn't understand how the Site Plan Review and Gravel Ordinances have been combined and the relationship of active pits to permitted areas. He said there should be some clarification on whether a permit is a renewal or an expansion, and the time to discuss that is now. Perry said if the expanded area is still within the permitted area it would be a renewal. A lengthy discussion followed.
Mike said the new ordinance made restoration weaker. He said the operators only have to pay for the gravel removed; there is no restoration requirement in the new ordinance. Another lengthy discussion followed regarding valuation, renewals, new pits and land use).
Don said it might be helpful to compare the differences between the current ordinance and the former ordinance renewal process. Gary said there seems to be agreement to adding a renewal section.
Perry said as he understood it, if you got a permit for 6.03 acres, the permit was for all 6.03 acres, regardless of where one was digging on the land. He said if one wanted a larger permit, they would have to follow the new ordinance. Don said there is some provision for grandfathering and requiring restoration before opening a new area.
Val said there needs to be talk about restoration. Mike said if an area is not restored, it is considered an active pit. Jay said one an area is restored it can always be un-restored to get material that might be needed. A brief discussion followed about different types of materials that might be located within the same permitted area and the market demands for different materials. Stu asked if that mean favoring the amount of open areas. Jay said that was not correct. Val said maybe the group ought to look at some sort of cap, or limiting opening new areas until restoration is obtained. Jay explained that some operations require a bigger working area because of the type of operation they run. There was a brief discussion about the placement of pits on a parcel of land.
Stu asked what the group was thinking in regard to the strategy to develop possible language for renewal. Gary said he would like to see the ordinances side by side and look at it that way. David asked if there was a form. Steve said there is a short form, but it requires a lot of attached information. Stu said he would lay out the two ordinance requirements in table form for the group and there was no objection.
Gary asked what was left to discuss. Stu said Val had mentioned restoration. Gary said that might be the topic for the next meeting, depending on the availability of Mr. Gerber.
Permit Status Mike said he would be considering violation notices next Tuesday when he works next. The group agreed this item was no appropriate for the agenda.
Letter from Michael Keene Gary reported the Selectmen had discussed Mr. Keene's concerns. Stu reported the Planning Board chair has written to Mr. Keene. Mike said the assessors should get a copy of his letter.
Public Comments Catherine deTuede asked how many acres are actively being mined in Lamoine. Mike said 282. Ms. deTuede asked how many of those acres are restored. Mike said none they are actively being mined. Ms. deTuede asked if it's known how many acres have been restored in the past. Mike said that was not known. He said maps change; pit operators restore some areas and open different areas. Ms. deTuede said he would be helpful to know how much has been restored. Mike said that the Gott operation, for example, has restored a lot of area. A brief discussion followed.
David asked if the numbers of how much land has been restored, how much has been mined, and how much is permitted to be mined could be provided. Gary said the Planning Board has the permit information and plenty of maps. He said the information is in the detail on the maps. David asked if that meant he would have to look at all of the maps. Don said the items requested are not always stated in acreage. He said the Planning Board does not look at the whole picture or a rolling tally.
Val asked if there were guidelines for restoration. Don said they are very specific. Perry said he wasn't sure how that mattered for what the group is working on. He said he thought the role was more to do with the process. David said the numbers would be helpful to bring some history and how the town got to this point.
Jay said there have been big exaggerations that upset him. David said he was trying to give some suggestions and a discussion about numbers followed.
Jay said the committee should be able to have a discussion about what each side is thinking and what caused the thinking to put restraints on the pits. He said he would like to know what the fit is about and that most of the upset seems to be from people new to town. He said things have improved there is better equipment and the Bureau of Mines conducts inspections. David said some of the reasons stated at the school included comments that Lamoine was the gravel pit town, water quality, the traffic, and trucks running on the roads in the early hours. There was a brief heated exchange and a discussion about previous e-mails.
The next meeting will take place on May 15, 2014 at 7PM or when Mr. Gerber is available, depending on the date.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 8:40 PM.
Stu Marckoon, Adm. Asst. to the Selectmen