TREMONT, Maine — A state official has determined that a quarry off Route 102 did not require a state license before a planned blast at the quarry sent several rocks flying into neighboring houses more than 600 feet away.
The Clydesdale Lane quarry, owned by John Goodwin Jr., is only 0.84 acres in size, according to Mark Stebbins, mining coordinator for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Stebbins calculated the size of the quarry Friday afternoon after having inspected the quarry on Thursday, Dec. 1.
Had the quarry been at least one acre at the time of the errant Nov. 17 blast, Goodwin could have been fined for operating an unlicensed quarry and for violating the blasting standards set by the state for licensed quarries, Stebbins said.
“The department doesn’t have the ability to order them to fix the [houses that were damaged],” he said.
Stebbins said Friday that DEP requires owners of licensed quarries to contain rocks sent flying by blasts within the blast site, which he said is typically defined as the area within 50 feet of a drilled blasting hole. The rocks that soared over the nearby trees on Nov. 17 and crashed into homes owned by Bruce Rich and two of his neighbors flew 618 feet through the air, Stebbins said.
He added that Goodwin has told him that he will no longer operate the property as a quarry, but instead will find another use for it.
“I think he’s made the appropriate decision to shut it down,” Stebbins said.
Goodwin did not return a message left at his office Friday afternoon.
Stebbins said that, if Goodwin were to continue to use the property as a quarry, it necessarily would grow in size, which would mandate that the quarry be licensed by DEP. If this happened, he said, DEP would require Goodwin to change the direction of blasting so no more rocks would fly toward the homes that were damaged.
Stebbins said he has spoken to David Eastman, the owner of the blasting subcontracting firm that set the charge, about the incident. He said Eastman has set charges on and off in the quarry for about 10 years and never had any problems until Nov. 17.
His investigation on Thursday, Stebbins said, suggests that a geological feature may be to blame for the “fly rock” that crashed into Rich’s house.
He said blasting contractors typically do not use blast mats, which are thick rubber mats that are laid on top of a blasting area, unless they are blasting within a few yards of a building, road or some other type of infrastructure, because the mats can cause dangerous misfires.
“It appears they did everything right,” Stebbins said. “We’re thinking [the geological feature] might be the culprit.”
In an interview last week, Rich said that he was at his home on Spruce Lane on the afternoon of Nov. 17, watching the movie “Meteor” on his large-screen television, when rocks started falling from the sky around his house. A large rock the size of a dinner tray crashed through his bedroom wall, destroying his bedroom door and smashing a hole in the hallway wall.
Others rocks struck his workshop where he repairs and builds lobster traps, a dinghy and his roof, which might have to be re-shingled, Rich said. He has said he has talked to Eastman, his insurance company, and to an attorney about what his options are for getting the damages repaired.
Rich did not return voicemail messages left at his house this past week.
Danielle Neal, who lives next to Rich, said in a separate interview last week that rocks from the blast damaged her home, garage, truck and a lobster boat in storage in her yard.
Stebbins said he walked around in the woods Thursday between the quarry and the homes of Rich and Neal and saw several rocks 12-24 inches in diameter. He said that he does not often get calls about rocks from a quarry blast damaging nearby homes. The last one he can remember prior to the Nov. 17 blast, he said, occurred in 2005.
“When you throw rocks through somebody’s house, you know you have a problem,” Stebbins said. “I’m thankful nobody was hurt.”
The town of Tremont, meanwhile, is taking steps to try to prevent future mishaps. Town officials have said they are beginning the process of developing a local blasting ordinance that would require blasting contractors to get approvals from the town before any planned explosions can occur.