MOUNT DESERT, Maine — The landowner and operator of a quarrying site that has prompted complaints from residential neighbors are hoping to get a land use permit for mineral extraction at the site.
Landowners who abut the site in the local village of Hall Quarry have been unhappy with the quarrying, mainly because of a stone-cutting saw that Freshwater Stone uses to cut bedrock out of the ground. The saw, neighbors say, usually starts up each morning by 7 a.m. and makes quite a racket.
“It is the most ungodly thing you’ve ever heard,” Macomber Pines Road resident Christine Breedlove said this past week. “It is really, really, really noisy.”
Attorneys representing Harold MacQuinn Inc., which owns the property, and Freshwater Stone each say they believe the operation is grandfathered, because such activity has been consistently occurring at the site for at least the past couple of decades. But because mineral extraction is allowed under local ordinances, the firms plan to obtain the proper local permits that will allow the operation to continue.
Quarrying at the site has been on hiatus while the companies try to sort through the permit issues with the town. The firms are expected to appear before the local planning board on Monday, July 23, when the board is expected to decide whether MacQuinn and Freshwater should have a permit before they resume removing rock from the ground.
James Aylen, who lives on Cobbles End in Hall Quarry, said the stone saw is about 200 feet away from his house. He said the device first appeared and was used in the spring of 2010 and has been used seasonally in Hall Quarry since then.
He said he and his wife, Judy Aylen, who own and operate a jewelry shop in Southwest Harbor, have lived on Cobbles End since 1990. Before 2010, he said, the only thing he ever heard coming from the woods near his home was the sound of playing children or coyotes.
“Twenty-two years we have lived back there,” Aylen said Friday. “I didn’t ever hear any quarrying going on.”
Now, he added, there is near-constant noise from the saw or diesel engines, or air compressors, or jack hammers. He said if a door in his house to the outside is open, it can be difficult to carry on a conversation inside his home.
“It’s a cacophony. It’s terrible,” Aylen said. “You definitely can’t sleep past 6:30 a.m.”
Judy Aylen, who is home more than her husband during weekday business hours, said Friday that the din often gives her a headache.
“The noise is unbelievable. I wish I had recorded it,” she said. “It has definitely affected my peace of mind.”
Judy Aylen said she also is concerned that the activity is having an adverse affect on the value of their property.
“There’s no way anyone would rent the house and put up with the noise,” she said.
MacQuinn’s attorney, Edmond Bearor of Bangor, said Friday that though the company is willing to produce records that would demonstrate the site has been consistently used for quarrying operations, it will try to get a permit from the town to extract minerals at the site. The presence of the stone-cutting saw may be a relatively recent development, he said, but there have been consistent mineral extraction activities at the site since before permits were required and since before MacQuinn acquired the property in the 1980s.
If the board determines on Monday that such a permit is needed — and Bearor said he thinks it will — then the firms will submit a permit application to Code Enforcement Officer Kim Keene, who will determine what sort of conditions should be issued with the permit.
Bearor said that though MacQuinn has not been quarrying at the site since leasing it to Freshwater Stone, the company wants to have its name on the permit as a contingency measure.
“To the extent that we can address [the neighbors’ concerns], we are happy to do that,” Bearor said.
Last week, the town’s board of selectmen considered a request from about 20 Hall Quarry residents to schedule a special town meeting for a vote on a possible quarrying moratorium. According to Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt, the residents said such a moratorium was needed because the town’s existing local ordinances don’t provide enough protections for local residents.
The selectmen disagreed, saying that the town has a permit application process that allows the town to place limitations on quarrying activity. The board voted 3-2 not to schedule a special town meeting for a moratorium vote.
Lunt said Selectmen Tom Richardson, Dennis Shubert and Rick Mooers voted against holding a moratorium vote, while selectmen John Macauley and Martha Dudman voted in favor of it.
Lunt said that residents can bypass the selectmen, however, and have such a vote scheduled if they submit a petition with the signatures of 119 registered voters in Mount Desert. That figure represents 10 percent of the local turnout at the most recent gubernatorial election, he said.
“They definitely can do that,” the town manager said.
Aylen, the jeweler who lives next to the quarry site, said he doesn’t think that the town’s ordinances are clear enough to properly define what kind of quarrying or mineral extraction is allowed in Mount Desert. He said that the town needs to make sure it has adequate restrictions in place and that MacQuinn and Freshwater are compliant with those restrictions, even if the restrictions are not what he would prefer.
“My preference is that we go back to the nice quiet existence that we had for 20 years,” Aylen said.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.