Cumberland council sends proposed gravel, water rules to Planning Board; petition seeks referendum

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council voted 6-1 Monday to send the Planning Board proposed ordinance changes for gravel and water extraction.

The language will later return to the council for a decision. The council voted first on the water extraction changes, and then on gravel extraction; Councilor Jeff Porter voted in opposition twice.

Meanwhile, a group of residents are drawing up a petition to send alternate gravel extraction ordinance language to a June referendum. If the referendum passes, that language would take precedence over the language being reviewed by the Planning Board and Town Council.

The matter may not return to the council until May, Town Manager Bill Shane said, so the panel may delay its deliberations to see how the referendum goes.

Cumberland’s ordinance subcommittee offered two suggestions on language changes: to prohibit any commercial extraction of water except for municipal or quasi-municipal purposes, and to continue to permit gravel extraction as it is now permitted, but only through contract zoning.

The petition, spearheaded by a citizen’s group called Cumberland Environmental Action Network, would address gravel extraction alone and calls for a ban of that practice in Cumberland’s two Rural Residential zones.

West Cumberland resident Teri Maloney-Kelly, the founder of the network, said she plans to start collecting petition signatures next week. She said the petitions are due back to the town April 11, and that she is aiming for about 50 signatures more than the 580 that are required.

Her property on Maloney’s Ridge Way abuts the land where Elvin Copp and his son, Randy Copp, have planned to seek a permit for a pit. That land, in the Rural Residential 2 zone off Upper Methodist Road, borders the Maine Turnpike and the Falmouth town line.

Gravel extraction is currently allowed in Cumberland’s RR 1 and 2 zones, as well as its Industrial zone. Water extraction and bulk storage are allowed in those two RR zones along with the Low, Medium and Village Medium Density Residential zones.

Last November the council enacted a 180-day moratorium on new applications for gravel pits and water extraction sites.

Maloney-Kelly said she supports the subcommittee’s recommendation to bar commercial water extraction from the RR zones.

“However, I was very surprised and a little confused why the rest of Mother Nature’s resources – such as wildlife, birds, streams … soils and minerals – didn’t get extended the same protection as our water,” she added. “These ordinances have been on our books for 50 years, and 50 years ago the makeup of our town was very different. The stripping of natural resources from our lands was an acceptable business practice.”

But times have changed, she said: “Industrial business activities, such as water or gravel extraction for profit, may have been acceptable back in 1950, but are not in today’s world of environmental responsibility, sustainability and protection.”

Maloney-Kelly pointed out that 80 percent of Cumberland’s taxpayers live in the RR zones.

Kathleen Lynch of Blackstrap Road said “all the rules that have been broken brought up this situation in the first place,” referring to clear cutting, destruction of water and removal of earth on the Copp property, all without permits.

Shane confirmed that clear cutting and earth removal had occurred on the site without town permits. He also said neighbors have shown him photographic evidence of the elimination of a beaver pond, and that the town has no knowledge of a Maine Department of Environmental Protection permit or a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife letter that granted permission for that pond to be eliminated.

Shane said a stop work order was issued last fall after allegations were made concerning the activities, and that the town notified DEP of the matter. He said the Copps are working with DEP on a mitigation plan.

“I’m assuming that by spring there’ll be a plan in place to rectify some of those items,” he said.

Randy Copp has said he wants to improve the property and enhance its scenic views. He has expressed a desire to keep the property in the family, and has said he does not intend for it to be a perpetual gravel pit. DEP issued a notice of violation to the Copps stemming from concerns about erosion and sedimentation controls at the property, he said last November, but he claimed action has been taken to address the DEP concerns.

On Monday, he said a forestry permit had been pulled, “and every stick of wood that came off that property has been accounted for.”

Copp added that “we are whole with the DEP on all the permits we need as of today. Any future development is going to require more permits.”

He said he believed any material removal from the site was done legally, and that “I’ve worked with the code enforcement officer to see that we had done it legally.”

Copp also noted that “if you read the ordinance, and it could get challenged in court … we were doing what the ordinance tells us that we can do. So I didn’t understand that I was in violation until somebody said there (was) a problem.”

Shane said Copp obtained a building permit from the town for a house, and that excavation of land associated with construction of that house was allowed, but not to the extent that material ended up being removed from the site.

“That was a clear circumvention of the rules, and that’s why we stopped you,” Shane told Copp.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.