No end to neighbor complaints for Connecticut quarry

If members of the Westerley Pawcatuck, Connecticut, town council thought they had heard the last of complaints about the former Copar quarry, they were wrong.

A handful of Westerly and Charleston residents along with a state representative attended the council’s meeting Monday to deliver a stern critique of the council and the facility, reports Dale P Faulkner in the Westerly Sun.

The residents were drawn to the meeting by the council’s discussion of a proposal to develop an ordinance to regulate quarry businesses in Westerly. Al James, whose Ross Hill Road residence in Charlestown is adjacent to the quarry, distributed a blackened piece of paper towel that he said he had recently wiped along the front of his house.

“You can see the particles are very fine. That is what we are breathing,” James said, adding that he has had to have his house power-washed five times since he bought it in 2012.

On March 1 the council approved a new agreement to settle legal battles related to the quarry property, which is owned by the Comolli family’s Westerly Granite Co. Inc. The agreement required that the company make a good faith effort to remove the existing stone dust piles in the next 18 months.

Christina Holden-Shea, whose Charlestown residence is also near the quarry, said she recently received a diagnosis of a torn cornea and speculated that it was caused by quarry dust. She asked whether the piles of stone dust would be covered as they are dismantled. She also asked whether town officials planned to inspect the property to observe the work being performed by Cherenzia Excavation.

The company was hired by the Comollis to deal with the stone dust piles and to bring the facility into compliance with state regulations. The Comollis have said they plan to eventually seek a new operator to resume quarrying operations on the 106-acre parcel.

Neil Williamson said that after reading the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which listed the property as being zoned for Light Industrial use, he decided 16 years ago to spend $160,000 on an addition to his house. “I feel I was hoodwinked,” he said.
Williamson criticized a provision in the new agreement that requires the town to notify the Comollis of potential violations and to give the company two weeks to get into compliance before being issued a notice of violation. “You’re letting the bank robber give the money back and you’re losing base line data,” Williamson said.

Enoch McDonough, a Charleston resident, held up a dust mask that another speaker had left at the podium.
“I didn’t expect to have to wear one of these to sit on my deck because of dust from an illegal operation,” McDonough said.
McDonough chastised the council for approving the new agreement rather than allowing other court cases to move forward. The cases were expected to test the legality of a consent order approved by the town, Westerly Granite and Copar in 2014. “This council had an opportunity. We asked you to withdraw your support of the consent order and make them start from scratch,” McDonough said.

State Rep. Blake Filippi, independent of Block Island, predicted a hard road for the council’s attempt to adopt a so-called extraction ordinance. He said representatives of the state’s quarry businesses tried to block bills aimed at regulating the industry when they were proposed one year ago. Those same representatives will try to block the local effort, he said. A similar ordinance proposed in Charlestown in 2014 was dropped when lawyers for quarry owners said it would violate state law.

Quarrying allowed
McDonough and Filippi were most critical of the new agreement because the council conceded a critical point: agreeing that quarrying on the Comollis’ land will be forever allowed as a grandfathered use under town zoning regulations.
The council asked Solicitor Mathew Oliverio to develop a request for proposals seeking bids from firms interested in developing the ordinance for Westerly.

Councilor Jean Gagnier, the chief proponent of the ordinance, said it is necessary to assert the town’s police powers to protect the health and safety of citizens. Gagnier noted that Copar commenced operations without first obtaining permits from the state Department of Environmental Management. The proposed ordinance would require new quarry operators to submit proof to the town that the operator had obtained all of the required state and federal permits, Gagnier said.
Councilor Christopher Duhamel said an expert will help ensure that the ordinance “protects the citizens without shutting down the other quarries.”

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