June 20, 2018
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MDI homes pelted with rocks from errant quarry blast

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

TREMONT, Maine — Bruce Rich was in his living room last week watching a movie about meteors when rocks started falling from the sky around his house.

But it wasn’t rocks from space that pelted his home on Nov. 17, causing substantial damage. It was rocks from a quarry a few hundred yards east of his house, where a contractor had detonated explosives to blast away rock from a ledge.

Rich, a lobster fishermen, said Friday that a large rock “as big as a TV tray” came through his bedroom wall, smashed through his bedroom door and came to rest in another bedroom. Debris from the blast also flew through a wall of his adjacent workshop, smashed five of his lobster traps and put rips and dents in his roof, which he said will have to be reshingled.

On Friday, a shard of rock the size of a man’s hand still protruded from an interior wall next to Rich’s bedroom door.

Oddly, none of the flying rocks damaged his two Dodge pickup trucks parked outside the house, he said. He estimated that “thousands” of rocks of varying sizes sailed over the trees between his house and the quarry and landed on his Spruce Lane property.

“It was raining rocks outside the window,” Rich said. “The big one didn’t hit where I was sitting or I would have been killed. I’m very upset.”

Danielle Neal, who with Jerry Harper lives next door to Rich, said Friday afternoon that rocks from the blast struck the house they live in. Rocks punctured the roofs of their house and garage, the body of an older truck inside the garage, and bent the frame of an all-terrain vehicle in their yard, demolishing it, she said. A large rock also smashed through the side of Harper’s lobster boat, which is sitting on blocks outside their house.

“It’s fortunate no one got killed,” Neal said. “I think there should be more regulation over [blasting].”

Neal said she and Harper have consulted with an attorney to explore their options, but that they “don’t know how far it’s going to go.”

The contractor who set the blast said Wednesday that he has apologized to Rich, Neal and another nearby homeowner whose house also was hit, though to a lesser extent, by the flying debris. Drilling and Blasting of Exeter was blasting ledge at the quarry, which is owned by local contractor John Goodwin Jr.

David Eastman of Northern Drilling and Blasting said Wednesday that his firm has been blasting in that same quarry on and off for a decade and has never had a problem before.

He said that on Nov. 17, he used 6,500 pounds of an “emulsion type” of explosive in the blast. He has licenses from the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to transport and store the explosives, he said.

Eastman said his company’s insurer has been notified of the incident but that he has not yet talked to the insurer about the monetary value of the damage the blast caused.

“I’ve been trying to deal with the homeowners,” he said.

Eastman said he was at the quarry during the explosion and, after seeing the blast debris fly toward the neighboring properties, went over to investigate and apologize.

“I went over immediately and met with all the homeowners,” he said. “We’re still trying to determine what caused [the errant blast].“

Eastman said he made sure Rich’s house was sealed up right away and, on Monday, sent a carpenter to Rich’s house to begin repairing the damage. Rich, however, sent the carpenter away before he could get to work, he said.

“I’ve done everything I can,” Eastman said. “It was an accident.”

Rich said Friday that the carpenter showed up Monday before anyone from his insurance company had seen the damage. He said that he expects the same carpenter to come back next week to do an estimate, but that he expected to solicit estimates from other carpenters, too.

Rich said he has consulted with an attorney, but he has not decided what he will do. He has not ruled out filing a lawsuit against the contractor, he said.

“I don’t know yet,” Rich said. “I can’t sleep. My blood pressure is up and everything. I don’t feel safe here no more.”

Inquiries made this week to state agencies about the incident suggest that Eastman’s company might not face any regulatory penalties for damaging the homes.

Adam Fisher, spokesman for Maine Department of Labor, said Tuesday that the state agency works with private companies to help them comply with safety requirements but does not enforce workplace safety violations in the private sector. The federal Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration likely would investigate only if someone was injured, he added.

An official with Maine Geological Survey on Tuesday directed questions about blasting to the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

According to Sgt. Tim York of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, that state agency only regulates the storage and transportation of explosives. The actual use of the explosives to blast bedrock, York said Tuesday, is not regulated by the fire marshal’s office.

Millard Billings, Tremont’s town manager, said Friday that Tremont does not have any sort of blasting ordinance, but it might by next summer.

He said he has been asked by the town’s Board of Selectmen to approach the planning board so a blasting ordinance can be drafted and submitted to voters for possible adoption at the annual town meeting in May. He said he plans to raise the issue with the planning board when it meets this coming Tuesday.

What kind of requirements the town might impose on blasting, Billings said, has not been determined. Town officials likely will consider requiring blasting contractors to be insured, to be properly licensed by the appropriate state and federal agencies, and perhaps to follow other precautions such as using protective blast mats.

“It depends how in depth they want to get into,” Billings said.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter (@billtrotter) on Twitter.

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