May 21, 2018
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Bangor homeowners not pleased with rock quarry on Union Street

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
James Stevens of Bangor is concerned about a rock quarry that was permitted to start operating on Union Street, where crews started cutting trees earlier this week. Stevens said that the people in the neighborhood are worried about the noise and the possible drop in property values if a quarry starts operating withing a few hundred feet of their homes.
By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — When the Randalls bought their dream house on 3½ acres of land off outer Union Street last year, they had visions of helping raise their grandchildren on a family farm.

Two months ago, they finally moved in after selling their former house, and in between buying chickens and waiting for their alpacas to arrive, their dream life was dealt a rocky blow.

That’s when they found out they had moved next door to a new quarry, which has been approved for blasting, digging and crushing rocks for industrial and landscaping use.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me and we’ve been very happy, up until about two weeks ago,” said Cat Randall. “We found out about this and now we’re completely devastated.

“I can’t imagine,” she said. “I think the noise will be unbelievable. They’ve been clear-cutting back there with the beeping whenever they back up, and the noise is terrible.”

The quarry is the second one located off Union Street and the third overall in Bangor. The other Union Street quarry is on the opposite side of the road. Both are owned and operated by Harvey Sprague and Randy Gardner of Gardner Construction. The third has been operated by Lane’s Construction off Odlin Road for about 50 years.

“There are specific zones where quarries are allowed in the city and that is one of the zones where it’s allowed,” said Art Morgan, Bangor’s city engineer.

David Gould, the city’s planning officer, said the quarry meets the standards as they are outlined in Bangor’s land development code.

“It does allow uses other than purely residential,” Gould said. “What you need to keep in mind is rural residence and agriculture includes places we’re not going to get sewer and water to, so the thing is these land designations mean they have a lot of potential uses, from residential to agricultural, farms and kennels and radio towers.”

That’s little comfort to neighbors such as Jim Stevens, whose 3-acre property off Downing Street abuts the quarry site and whose house is just 200 feet from the 5-acre area work crews are clearing with a harvester to prepare for quarry digging and eventual blasting.

“We all have wells and we’re worried they might be affected,” Stevens said. “I bought this land to be out further and in a more quiet area. I even bought the lot next to me to make sure nothing would be right next door. Now we’re going to have a rock crusher and blasting going on right in our backyard.”

Bangor’s present land development code allows for quarries, mining and excavation activities on rural-agricultural land for an initial period of no more than five years, “provided that such use is not seriously detrimental to the neighborhood and would not be detrimental to the adjacent waterways.”

Morgan and Gould both pointed out that the code mandates only a 20-foot buffer between a right-of-way line of an existing street or a property line, but both Union Street quarries are required to be at least 100 feet away.

Queen City Mining, Sprague and Gardner’s partnership, built an access road to the quarry site off Union Street.

“It runs alongside our property, so they’ll be going up and down that road all day long, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week,” said Sharon Cassidy, who has lived at 1576 Union St. with her husband, John, for 20 years. “I won’t physically see it, but I’ll hear it.

“I’m worried about the dust, the noise, and potential damage to our well. The wild animals won’t stay around, and the biggest thing is I’m sure our property value has already started going down.”

The other quarry operated by Sprague and Gardner, which opened in 2007, is on a 59-acre parcel they own. The new one is part of a 55-acre parcel leased last year from the Colburn family with an option to purchase.

“That was an operating quarry for about 25 years,” said Morgan. “And the new one used to be a silver mine. There is a documented shaft somewhere on that parcel.”

Morgan was referring to the 134-year-old Queen City Silver Mine owned by Edwin Colburn, who also owned Bangor Furniture.

The permit for the first quarry, approved in 2006, lapsed, but the Bangor planning board approved its renewal for three years late last year.

“The board did a review, and the developer met all the requirements,” Morgan said. “As I understand it, there were some intermittent noise complaints and one for some property damage.”

Attempts to reach Sprague through family business Sprague’s Nursery, and Gardiner through work phone numbers, were unsuccessful Monday afternoon.

The half-dozen property owners abutting the quarry plan to attend a business and economic committee meeting of the Bangor City Council on Wednesday afternoon to air their concerns and ask for some kind of relief.

The Cassidys have filed a civil suit at Penobscot Judicial Center to stop the quarry from operating, but they said the case has been delayed because their lawyer had to recuse himself due to a possible conflict of interest.

For now, neighboring homeowners will have to wait and see.

“The thing I find ironic is that you’re not allowed to fire a gun, even out here, but apparently it’s perfectly fine to blast with dynamite,” said Stevens. “There’s something wrong about that.”

“I can’t argue that, but it is a use that is specifically allowed,” said Morgan. “It’s a Catch-22. You have to have these materials for us to prosper and grow, and you need things like this to get them, but I can understand not wanting to live near one.”

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