Cumberland Town Council sets moratorium on gravel pits

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday enacted a moratorium on gravel pits and water extraction sites.

The moratorium, effective immediately and extending at least 180 days, is intended to give the town time to study the way those uses put pressure on development and to allow it to change its laws.

The discussion was triggered when Elvin Copp and his son, Randy Copp, said they planned to seek a permit for a pit on land Elvin owns off Upper Methodist Road, which borders the Maine Turnpike and the Falmouth town line. They later agreed not to apply until the town had reviewed the matter.

Extraction of earth is allowed in Cumberland’s Rural Residential 1 and 2 districts. Water removal, pumping and bulk storage is permitted in those districts and the Low Density Residential district. Those zones include 80 percent of the households in town, West Cumberland resident Teri Maloney-Kelly told the Town Council in a letter Chairwoman Shirley Storey-King read at Monday’s meeting.

Urging the Town Council to enact the moratorium, Maloney-Kelly expressed concern about the industrial nature of gravel extraction operations, and their impact on residential neighborhoods and natural resources. She also said they produce excessive noise.

Maloney-Kelly expressed concern about damage to roads from truck travel, and about the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and other vehicles.

“Walking or biking could become an extreme sport in West Cumberland,” her letter said.

Helen Edmonds, an attorney representing the Copps, opposed the moratorium, noting that the land in question is one of the few properties in town – if not the only one – that would be immediately impacted by passage of the ordinance.

“A moratorium is really a special type of ordinance that is only appropriate in limited circumstances for enactment,” Edmonds said. “And those circumstances would call for a town-wide emergency situation for which the current ordinances are not appropriate to regulate the use.”

She said gravel pits have existed in West Cumberland for many decades, and that the Copp property, purchased in recent years, had been used before as a gravel pit.

Edmonds noted that while much of the town is zoned RR1 or RR2 and would permit development of gravel extraction uses, “unlike many uses that can be developed throughout a town, gravel extraction can only be developed where the materials actually exist. … What we’re talking about is a specific proposed gravel operation that a specific small group of neighbors are concerned about. And really, that is not the type of situation that should prompt something like a town-wide moratorium.”

The town’s existing system for gravel pit permitting is stringent, Edmonds said, because applicants are required to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals and must also obtain an advisory ruling from the Planning Board. For at least the next five years after that permit is issued, the permit holder must go back to both boards, she said.

She said the Copps are willing to work with their neighbors and town staff to address any concerns arising from their proposed use.

Randy Copp has said he plans to enhance the property and improve its scenic views. He also said he wants to be able to keep the property in the family, and does not intend for it to be a perpetual gravel pit. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued the Copps a notice of violation stemming from concerns about erosion and sedimentation controls at the property, he said, but he claimed they have taken action to address those concerns.

Councilor George Turner, who dissented in the 4-1 vote for the moratorium, echoed Edmonds’ sentiments that there should be an emergency nature to such an ordinance, but that an emergency does not exist.

Councilor Jeff Porter said the moratorium would allow more time for him to understand the issues involved.

“The fact that … approximately 80 percent of our town is open to earth material extraction and water extraction was a shock to me,” he said. “… This isn’t just one property owner.”

He said his vote was “to slow things down. … I do think this (moratorium) gives us an opportunity to think about this in a more coherent way.”

Town Manager Bill Shane said the matter could return to the Town Council in January or February.

Councilor Ron Copp, who is related to Elvin and Randy Copp, did not participate in the discussion and did not vote.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 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.