LAMOINE — The question of whether to approve a gravel pit expansion in Lamoine that could remove a large hill was sent to a new tribunal Monday night: the Appeals Board.
The pit, which is owned and would be operated by Harold MacQuinn Inc., would expand the site from its current 65 acres to about 110 acres.
In the six years this expansion application has been deliberated, it has never made it to the Appeals Board. That’s because in 2014, after the first round of Planning Board deliberations ended in a rejection for MacQuinn, his team sued the Planning Board, citing conflicts of interest among the members.
A court battle led to the issue being reheard from the beginning before a Planning Board whose composition had changed. The Planning Board again denied the pit expansion in November, and MacQuinn’s team appealed the decision.
Ed Bearor, MacQuinn’s attorney, started off Monday’s Appeals Board hearing of arguments by focusing on the hydrogeology of the plan.
“The big issue, we’ve always thought,” Bearor said, “was the groundwater and the proximity of Cold Spring Water Co. to the pit. It’s been exhaustively studied.”
Cold Spring is a public water supply that serves the Lamoine Consolidated School, the town fire department, a church and about 50 local homes. The Planning Board, in its November rejection of the pit expansion, cited unknowns about how a nearby gravel operation would affect the water.
Specifically, the planners were pointing to conflicting interpretations of how the waters underneath and near the pit interact. MacQuinn’s team said the underlying aquifer isn’t connected to Cold Spring Water Co.’s supply, but Willem Brutsaert, a hydrogeologist who lives in Lamoine and formerly taught at the University of Maine, submitted statements to the Planning Board arguing that Cold Spring’s water draws from the aquifer.
The gravel mining operation, Brutsaert has said, could lead to Cold Spring’s supply running dry.
Bearor began by giving an overview of the research that had been done on the topic. He cited studies carried out by Mike Deyling, the geologist hired by MacQuinn to study the plan in 2012, who has said he believes the two bodies of water are not connected.
Since Deyling began working on the application five years ago, the town’s consulting geologist, Robert Gerber, has agreed with his findings. Gerber was chosen by the Planning Board in 2013 to peer review Deyling’s findings, because board members wanted a separate opinion.
Bearor read a letter from Gerber sent to the Appeals Board earlier this month, which he called “the most definitive statement that one could ever see from a hydrogeologist that this won’t affect Cold Spring Water Co.”
Deyling then got up to present to Appeals Board members his process in the past six years for researching and tracking the pit’s potential effects.
“The question is where exactly is that spring and what do we know about that spring?” he said, summarizing some of his original research questions. “It’s not located at the pit — it’s about a quarter of a mile away.”
He explained that Cold Spring is likely big enough that it’s “really its own aquifer,” meaning it may not be drawing its source from the aquifer under the pit.
As for oil spills on site, he said, the oil would never end up in Cold Spring.
“If you had a spill within the pit,” Deyling told Appeals Board members, “the impact would hit this lower water table … and would move away and never encounter Cold Spring … hydraulically, it can’t happen. The physics won’t allow.”
Another major issue in the case is the question of natural beauty. Planning Board members in November cited concerns about whether this expansion would comply with Lamoine’s rules regarding the preservation of the town’s landscape.
“Some people may say, ‘Wow, that’s pretty unique geology,’” Deyling said, referring to the hill that would be lost as part of the expansion. “That’s the thing about geology: it’s all unique.”
He acknowledged that this area is interesting because it’s a spot where multiple geologic systems interact, but he said that isn’t necessarily rare.
His assessment conflicts with that offered by Harold “Hal” Borns, a geologist with the University of Maine who has studied the Downeast region’s landscape. Borns was invited to testify Monday night.
During the meeting, he said the site has scientific value to the community of Lamoine.
“There’s value, in the scientific sense, in this delta … it’s just a fine example of something you have in town,” Borns said. “If you decide it’s worth preserving for non-economic reasons, you’ve got a very good case. It’s a very unique feature.”
In an interview with The American in the fall, Borns said Lamoine was a case study in how industry can harm the natural environment. Asked Monday about this comment, he said he stands by it.
“I think the town of Lamoine is a poster child for how you destroy a town,” he said.
Appeals Board members were planning to meet Wednesday evening (March 28) to discuss the issue further.