THOMASTON, Maine — Stephen and Kathy Darney were first-time home buyers when they purchased their house on Old County Road in 2002. For $80,500 they had a historic home and barn for themselves and their two young children.
Years later, when limestone dust came down over their house and vibrations from blasting by the nearby Dragon Cement plant scared their children, the couple filed a lawsuit against the company in U.S. District Court. The court Tuesday ruled in favor of the cement company.
Sure, the Darneys had seen the Dragon Cement tower looming near Route 1 when they drove to see the house. They had seen the blasting signs near their new home. They knew Dragon Cement blasted the area for limestone to grind into cement products.
What the Darneys didn’t anticipate is the $50 million upgrade Dragon made to its Thomaston plant two years after the couple moved in. With the 2004 upgrade came an expansion of the blast site, an expansion that crept closer to the Darney’s property line. The cement plant tripled its blasts to more than 100 per year. The explosions became more powerful too, using more than 10,000 pounds of explosives in some blasts. The explosions cause dust to fly up in the air.
“Since moving into their home, the Darneys frequently have found their home, their yard vegetation, their patio table, their children’s toys and swing set to be covered with a layer of dust. They have also found this dust covering their cars, as well as on their computer, electronics and other belongings in their house,” the lawsuit states. “The dust is gritty and difficult to wash off.”
Every day the dust would settle on them, the Darneys said.
“The Darneys spend a significant amount of time, on at least a weekly basis, attempting to clean off dust that has accumulated on their property,” the court document states.
When Dragon would blast the ground, the Darneys could feel the vibrations. It scared their children. The couple called the company to complain, so Dragon Cement placed them on a call list so they would know when the blasts would come. Further, the company put a seismograph on their property to measure the impact. But according to the lawsuit, the seismograph recorded vibrations 18 times less than what it would take to damage even the drywall in the home. The Darneys demanded Dragon take away the seismograph and never enter their property again.
According to court documents, the Darneys hoped to get $220,000 from Dragon Cement so they could buy a new home elsewhere. They claimed Dragon caused a nuisance, was negligent and that the company’s dust and vibrations trespassed onto their property. Their house, they said, is unsellable because of the cement plant.
But according to United States District Judge George Z. Singal’s March 22 decision, Dragon Cement did nothing wrong.
The house is not downwind of the blasting and the Darney’s property that they bought for $80,500 is now worth $140,000, according to the judge’s ruling. The ruling did not indicate how the judge arrived at that value.
“The evidence does not support a finding that dust from Dragon’s operations caused measurable damage to the Darneys’ residence,” the judge concluded. Further, the blast vibrations didn’t hurt the property either, Singal wrote.
“We were pretty sure that we were OK and that the Darneys didn’t have any grounds for the lawsuit,” said Dragon Cement plant manager Ray DeGrass in a phone interview Thursday. “We’re happy the court agreed with our defense.”
The Darneys declined to comment when contacted at their home.