LAMOINE, Maine — Goodbye, cross. Hello 100-plus acre gravel pit.
It’s not a done deal but a construction firm has applied to the town for a gravel extraction permit that, if approved, could result in one of the largest gravel pits in the area and the removal of a large cross that has loomed high on a hill for the past 17 years.
The cross, estimated to be about 40 feet tall, was erected on a hill overlooking Route 184 in 1995. Ralph and Mary Miro, owners of the property, erected the metal cross to protest a 1990 court ruling that they had violated local ordinances by extracting gravel from their land without a permit. The couple ended up paying a fine of more than $59,000 to the town in 1993.
Now, Harold MacQuinn Inc., has applied to the town for permits to remove gravel from the property where the cross sits and from an adjacent piece of land owned by the construction firm. If the town approves the permit application, the firm would buy the Miros’ parcel and then mine gravel from a 110-acre site on the combined properties, according to John Holt, Lamoine’s planning board chairman.
“It’s that whole hill,” Holt said Monday about the proposed site. “It’s the biggest site plan approval we’ve ever done.”
Stephen Salsbury of Ellsworth land surveying firm Herrick & Salsbury said Tuesday that MacQuinn already is operating a 65-acre gravel pit on land it owns next to the Miro property. Salsbury is handling the application process for MacQuinn, which has to obtain permits both from the town and from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in order to expand the pit.
Salsbury said the proposed 110-acre pit, which would include the 65 acres already producing gravel, would be “one of the biggest operations around.”
By comparison, another pit operated by MacQuinn in Hancock, between the Lamoine town line and Route 1, is around 80 acres in size. The Walmart Supercenter on Myrick Street in Ellsworth and the adjacent parking lot cover 21 acres — which would make the proposed expanded gravel pit roughly the size of five Walmarts, he added.
Salsbury said the pit could yield gravel for decades and is considered part of MacQuinn’s long-term, strategic planning. The company is looking to have the pit meet its general needs, he said, not because it needs a new source of gravel for any particular project.
Salsbury said the company is required to submit and get approval for a reforestation plan for the site, in the event that it stops mining gravel at the location for whatever reason. MacQuinn has posted a $450,000 bond that would be used to replace loam and soil at the pit if gravel mining operations ceased.
As part of its proposal, MacQuinn would install a fourth monitoring well at the site to complement the three that already are in use for the 65-acre operation. The well would be used to make sure the volume of groundwater under the pit, which must be five or more feet below the bottom depth of the pit, is not affected by the gravel mining operations.
The state does not require the groundwater to be monitored for quality, he said.
Salsbury and Holt each said the application is being reviewed to make sure MacQuinn has submitted all the documentation the town requires but that the planning board has not yet started reviewing the submitted materials to make sure the project will meet the town’s standards.
Holt said the board is expected to meet on Dec. 2 to continue its completeness review of the application. The earliest that a public hearing on the merits of the application might happen is in January, the planning board chairman said.
One issue that already has been debated is whether Holt has a conflict of interest because of the positions he holds with the Cold Spring Water Co., a water consumer cooperative with 54 users in Lamoine that owns property next to the proposed expansion site. Holt is one of seven directors of the cooperative and serves as its treasurer and its licensed operator.
Holt said that in October, MacQuinn’s attorney, Edmond Bearor of Bangor, raised the issue of Holt’s apparent conflict of interest and asked Holt to recuse himself from reviewing and voting on the application.
Holt declined, saying the interests of the water cooperative and that of the town in protecting local water resources are mutual, not exclusive. A subsequent vote by the board at its Nov. 13 meeting, determined by a 3-1 tally (with Holt abstaining) that the chairman did not have a conflict and did not need to recuse himself.
Multiple attempts to contact Bearor for comment on the company’s proposal have been unsuccessful. According to minutes of the Nov. 13 meeting, Bearor told the board that his client had no plans to appeal the recusal vote and the firm expects to be “treated fairly” by the planning board.
Holt said Monday that, despite his observations on the size of the proposed project, he would withhold judgment on MacQuinn’s application until all the materials have been submitted and thoroughly reviewed.
“We’re going to proceed very carefully,” he said. “[The proposed expansion] is going to change, literally, the face of Lamoine.”
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.