LAMOINE, Maine — Voters in this coastal Hancock County town will decide Tuesday whether to place limits on where gravel pits will be allowed to operate.
But last week, a local landowner filed suit against the town seeking to challenge the proposed land use ordinance amendment before it is even approved.
The issue of how gravel pits in the town should be permitted has long been a divisive issue in Lamoine, where gravel pit owners and operators have been under scrutiny from many residents who claim that the increase of gravel pit mining has had a detrimental affect on the town and on underground water supplies.
The proposed amendment would prohibit mineral exploration and sand and gravel pits, with some grandfathered exceptions, in the town’s designated rural and agriculture zone. These activities would continue to be prohibited in the town’s residential zone but allowed in the town’s development zone.
The ballot vote on the proposal will be 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday, June 10, at the Lamoine Town Office at the intersection of routes 184 and 204.
Robert J. Ames and U.S. Bank, co-trustees of an Ames family trust, filed a complaint on June 4 in Hancock County Superior Court seeking declaratory judgement against the town. In the complaint, the plaintiffs claim the proposed amendment would prohibit gravel extraction on a 20-acre parcel of land off Route 184 that is owned by the trust.
The prohibition would deprive “the trust of substantially all economic value of the property,” which the plaintiffs estimate to be between $215,000 and $240,000, the complaint states. Even just the possibility of the amendment being enacted has made the property “essentially unmarketable,” the plaintiffs claim.
The trustees are requesting the court to declare that adoption of the amendment would amount to “an uncompensated regulatory taking” in violation of the trust’s constitutional rights and to bar the town from prohibiting sand and gravel extraction at the property.
The trust is being represented by Bangor attorneys Ed Bearor and Erik Stumpfel, who sent a copy of the complaint to the Bangor Daily News late last week. Bearor also represents four contractors who filed suit against Lamoine a year ago over changes voters made in March 2013 to the town’s gravel extraction regulations.
According to Stu Marckoon, administrative assistant in Lamoine, that lawsuit later was withdrawn by the plaintiffs. He said Monday that he had not heard about the lawsuit filed last week by the Ames trust.
Resident Carol Korty, a supporter of the proposed amendment, said Sunday that it would not ban sand and gravel mining altogether or redraw the boundaries of the town’s existing land use zones. Nor would it affect already permitted gravel mining operations. The purpose of the proposed amendment, she said, is to keep gravel mining in Lamoine at an appropriate scale.
“At this point, it is fully industrial,” she said of the scope of gravel operations in the rural town. “We are trying to rein it in.”
Korty said she believes the latest lawsuit against the town is part of a larger strategy to maintain the status quo.
“This is an expected tactic by those opposing this ordinance,” she said. “When the citizens of Lamoine amended their gravel ordinance last year, the opposition responded with a lawsuit. They are unwilling to accept the will of the majority of the voters.”
Barry Mills, an Ellsworth lawyer who has been providing legal advice to Korty and other Lamoine landowners who support the proposed amendment, said Monday that he had not seen the Ames complaint firsthand. But, he said, municipalities do have a right to regulate activities on someone’s private property if that activity arguably may pose harm to surrounding residents or properties.
“Every zoning ordinance is, to some extent, a taking of property,” Mills said, referring to language in the Ames complaint.