ORRINGTON, Maine — A forestry and gravel mining operation off Route 15 is intruding on otherwise quiet neighborhoods in Orrington and across the Penobscot River in Hampden, residents say.
“That’s why we bought here,” resident Dennis Colson said Monday afternoon during an informal gathering at neighbor Jim McDougal’s home on Grant Street, located in south Orrington between the river and Route 15.
Last winter, the noise was connected to timber harvesting, McDougal and a group of about half a dozen neighbors said.
The worksite is owned by Michael Thornton of Thornton Construction in Milford. Thornton could not be reached for comment Monday evening.
When the chipper was running, Colson, who lives across the road, said he couldn’t hear the television in his Grant Road home, roughly 1,000 feet from the site. Another neighbor said the chipper made his house shake when it was in use.
With the timber work completed, residents of Grant Road in Orrington and Main Road South in Hampden now say they are being subjected to noise from the engines of heavy machinery, the banging of dump truck tailgates and the beeping of backup alarms from an array of machines used in gravel removal and road construction.
Since early April, they say, the machinery and vehicles have been running from 6:30 a.m. through 6:30 p.m. most weekdays.
That is because the gravel mine, which can be accessed from McGinn Road, recently became a staging area for a contractor working on the Route 15 overhaul that began earlier this spring. McGinn Road runs roughly parallel to Grant Road.
The residents say it is their understanding that the mining will go on at least through the end of the year, if not longer.
Rob Lilieholm, who lives in Hampden, said his home on the river is among eight to 10 homes in Hampden that were affected in recent years by an earlier gravel mining site operated by the same owner.
In an effort to minimize the noise, Lilieholm has landscaped and had a waterfall installed. This year, he plans to install central air conditioning as another way to create “white noise” that might help drown out the din that is coming across the river.
The affected residents have aired their complaints with local officials with no success. McDougal said he and his wife also have spoken with officials from several state departments and agencies, but so far to no avail.
McDougal’s wife, Carol, is a nurse who works the evening shift and needs to be able to sleep in the early morning hours. In a letter to the Bangor Daily News about the issue, she wrote that while she is glad that the road is being rebuilt, she does not believe the staging area needs to be in her backyard.
She said she would rather see it moved to another spot on Thornton’s more than 100-acre parcel.
“The constant noise has had its toll on me and has made any outdoor activities obsolete,” she said. “Headaches, lack of sleep, depression are just a few issues. Staying inside with the windows shut only dulls the noise.”
Orrington Town Manager Paul White said Monday that there is nothing town officials can do about the mining operation.
Though Colson and other residents say mining should not be allowed in their rural setting, gravel removal is an activity allowed in the town’s Rural Residence and Farming Districts, according to Orrington’s Land Use Ordinance.
Thornton has obtained the necessary permit and is abiding by regulations, White said.
White said the town has received several noise and dust complaints since last fall, when the new owner of the parcel began harvesting timber and extricating gravel.
White said the town asked Thornton to limit lumber harvesting to certain hours and that he did.
“The town of Orrington can’t dictate to landowners what they can do with their property. I have no right to do that. I’m sympathetic to them but there is only so much the town can do,” White said.