Cumberland to discuss new rules for gravel pits, water removal

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council voted unanimously Monday to hold a public hearing Monday, Feb. 28, on changes to the town’s gravel and water extraction ordinance.

The council enacted a 180-day moratorium in early November on new applications for gravel pits and water extraction sites. The moratorium was intended to give the town time to change its laws and study the way those uses put pressure on development.

The discussion on ordinance changes would next go to the Planning Board and then back to the Town Council for a final decision.

The discussion on the moratorium was triggered when Elvin Copp and his son, Randy Copp, expressed interest in a gravel pit and water extraction site on land Elvin owns off Upper Methodist Road, which borders the Maine Turnpike and the Falmouth town line. They later agreed not to apply for a permit until after a town review.

Cumberland’s ordinance subcommittee is seeking input from the council on two suggestions: to prohibit any commercial extraction of water except for municipal or quasi-municipal purposes, and to continue to allow gravel extraction as it is now permitted, but only through contract zoning.

Town Manager Bill Shane said on Tuesday that contract zoning could address technical requirements for gravel pits that may be in sensitive areas.

“For instance, if there’s a series of private wells in the area that could be impacted by an extraction operation,” he said, the impact could be monitored and quantified to see if water quality would be degraded or its quantity decreased. “And that we can do a lot easier on a site-by-site specific (basis), versus trying to put a blanket ordinance together for every possibility under the sun, which is just not really feasible or practical.”

Cumberland’s aquifers are located beneath sand and gravel formations in town.

Gravel extraction is allowed in the town’s Rural Residential 1 and 2 zones, as well as its Industrial zone. Water extraction and bulk storage is allowed in those two Rural Residential zones as well as the Low, Medium and Village Medium Density Residential zones.

Shane noted that with gravel extraction operations, there are spill containment and prevention plans to prevent water contamination. John Sevee of Sevee & Maher Engineers, which has allowed some gravel pits, said his firm requires refueling of any equipment outside the extraction area and having secure gates so that unauthorized people cannot go in and dump products.

Councilor George Turner, who serves on the ordinance subcommittee, said the water extraction ban is “a question of balancing risk against a huge asset. The risk of allowing extraction that might be overdone or might cause pollution is just way too much to take a risk on it.”

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.