Cumberland residents air concerns about gravel pit

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CUMBERLAND — Residents are venting about the impact of a gravel pit that has operated in their neighborhood for decades.

The pit, which measures about 54 acres and is in the town’s Industrial zone, is bordered to the north by homes on both sides of Forest Lane, just south of Forest Lake. Those homes are in the Village Medium Density Residential district, which surrounds the eastern portion of the lake and sits up against the Industrial district.

The pit is bordered on the west by the Windham town line, to the south by Goose Pond Road and to the east by Blackstrap and Forest Lake roads.

The town has owned and operated a section in the center of the pit for at least three decades, using gravel for road projects and aggregate processing of materials, Town Manager Bill Shane said in an interview May 2.

Scott Morgan is stabilizing slopes and filling a hole in the ground on his northwest piece of the pit, and the Maine Department of Transportation does occasional aggregate processing and material storage in the southwest and east, according to Shane.

The Storey family, as Storey Brothers Inc. and RJT Properties Inc., owns the northeastern section of the pit and conducts active aggregate processing, he said.

All the landowners are in compliance with town ordinances, and have complied with a request from Shane in the past to limit the times of some operations, he said.

A meeting May 3 in Town Council chambers was an attempt for the homeowners and pit operators to find a middle ground in difficult circumstances, but more discussion and ideas could follow, Shane said.

“Unfortunately, construction seasons are short in Maine, and a lot of activity happens during the summer months when you’re trying to enjoy your properties and trying to enjoy the lake,” Shane said, noting the uses of the two districts are in conflict.

“The folks that are operating in the pit are doing nothing against the ordinance right now,” he added, noting that despite calls for uses in the pit to change, “any changes typically grandfather those that are … on the property, and doing what’s permitted today.”

“It won’t change back in time; it’ll only change going forward,” Shane said.

Carol Lemieux of Forest Lane said the homeowners are aware there is a pit in their neighborhood. “… We don’t expect any changes. That’s because, when we were young and had (young) families, we didn’t come to the meetings like we should have, when it was zoned Industrial,” she said.

“My quality of life is horrible,” said 35-year Forest Lane resident Janene Gorham. She acknowledged the Storey family members have been strong economic stewards, but expressed concern about property values and quality of life taking a hit.

“I’m aware that pits are a big part of West Cumberland for 100 years-plus,” she said, but lamented that the Town Council in 2011 allowed aggregate processing in gravel pits, “and this I think is when the noise really started.”

“Our lives have changed for the worse,” Gorham said. “The constant noise has caused stress, and reduced our peace and quality of life, so much so that I cannot walk down Forest Lane without getting very upset.”

“The digging, dumping, roaring, constant beeping sounds are all now extended down to the Windham line,” she said.

Councilor Ron Copp, a lifelong resident whose family owns properties between the pit and Blackstrap Road, said he lives in the middle of a gravel pit on Middle Road. He recalled rules and regulations once being so minimal that he found a car built in the 1930s when he dug the foundation for his home.

“That’s what you dealt with back in those days; you can’t get away with that now,” Copp said, adding that the pit owners “have to jump through more hoops just to be in business. … They pay more money in excise tax to this town than most people pay in property taxes in a year. Believe me, if you think it’s expensive to register your Volvo, go register a Mack dump truck.”

He told Forest Lane residents he feels their pain, “but you’re in an industrial zone. You can’t put these guys out of business; they employ 35 employees.”

“My heart goes out to everybody in this room, but we’ve all got to get along,” Copp added. “… I know that they don’t do anything to intentionally disrupt the neighborhood; I know that they try to be good stewards of the land.”

Aggregate processing is important these days, he said, “because every yard of gravel that comes in goes back out. It may come in as a rock and go out as sand, but that’s the way they make their money nowadays.”

“I don’t think anyone’s trying to put anybody out of business,” Lemieux responded, noting she was glad to learn which entities owned which pieces of the pit. “This has been very educational for me … this has been great.”

In concluding the meeting, Shane told the audience, “please give me a shout if you do come up with some good ideas that we can talk about; I’d be happy to listen.”

He suggested the two groups work together to find middle ground, such as a sound barrier, that could satisfy everyone.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Janene Gorham of Forest Lane in Cumberland describes impacts to her home caused by a nearby gravel pit. A neighborhood meeting on the matter was held at Town Hall May 3.

This visual shows separately-owned pieces of a gravel pit in West Cumberland.

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.