Westerly Town Council in Connecticut will soon consider the first step that could lead to the town eventually purchasing the Comolli family’s quarry land in Bradford, reports the Westerly Sun
The council voted unanimously Monday to consider hiring an appraiser to provide an estimate of the value of the 108-acre property where Copar Quarries of Westerly and its successor Armetta Sand & Stone operated from late 2010 until August. The council is expected to vote June 8 on whether to hire one of two appraisal firms that responded to a solicitation conducted at the direction of Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy.
The Comolli family’s Westerly Granite Co. Inc. has a new agreement with Cherenzia Excavation, which plans to harvest large stone segments for use in sea walls. Cherenzia has said limited stone crushing could also be conducted. Cherenzia is also contracted to bring the property into compliance with state environmental regulations. The work includes watering and removing large piles of stone dust. The dust has been a source of consistent irritation for neighbors of the quarry who say it blows into their yards, marring their property and putting their health at risk.
Councilor Louis Sposato Jr. first suggested the possibility of the town buying the property last month. “I raised the potential issue as a possible solution to the millstone that has hung around this council’s neck for five years,” Sposato said. “I was trying to think outside of the box.”
The council has “an obligation to look into the option of buying the property to find a solution” to the constant challenges caused by the quarry, said Mario Celico, council vice president.
Councilor Jack Carson eventually supported moving the question of hiring an appraiser to the council’s June 8 meeting but questioned who directed Kennedy to seek quotes from appraisers and asked why the council had not first discussed the idea. He noted that a proposed resolution to hire an appraiser states the council “has expressed interest in purchasing” the property.
“I never showed any interest nor have I been consulted about it,” Carson said.
Carson initially said the council had jeopardized its bargaining ability by publicly declaring an interest in the property. Celico, responding to Carson, said councilors had not discussed Sposato’s idea previously and said Council President James Silvestri asked Kennedy to place it on the council’s agenda for discussion Monday. Silvestri was not present for the meeting.
Councilor Christopher Duhamel disagreed with Carson, saying that when the town started negotiations with Cherenzia Co. to purchase a portion of its quarry property on White Rock Road the two sides were far apart on an agreeable price. Eventually the talks led to the town entering into a lease purchase agreement, Duhamel said.
Duhamel also noted that an appraisal would be necessary if the council tries to take the Comolli’s land by eminent domain. State law allows certain governmental entities to take land to eliminate identifiable public harm or to correct conditions adversely affecting public health.
Councilors discussed the possibility of completing negotiations with the Comollis in time to present a potential purchase price to voters as a ballot question during the Nov. 8 election. Duhamel advised initiating talks with the Comollis and identifying potential uses of the property while an appraisal is being conducted. George Comolli,a principal in Westerly Granite Co. Inc. told The Sun last month that his family would consider selling the land to the town if a reasonable offer was made.
Councilor Jean Gagnier said having the property appraised is a necessary preliminary step that should be taken. Additionally, he said, the discussion pointed to the need for a town ordinance to regulate quarry businesses.
“There will be no peace out there unless something changes…this is one option…what we need is to regulate a certain industry. You can blow things up and crush things in this town, but if you want to sell a hot dog you need a license. It’s kind of insane,” Gagnier said.
Kennedy said he was planning to add the proposed quarry ordinance to a council meeting agenda in June. Sposato asked Kennedy if he had solicited bids from experts to assist with development of the ordinance. Kennedy said he did not recall being asked to solicit the bids. On April 18 the council asked Solicitor Matthew Oliverio to develop a request for proposals from firms interested in working as the town’s consultant on the ordinance.
Resident Charles Marsh asked the council to seek a solution to the quarry problem with urgency, saying the property is a public health threat, particularly to children. Charlestown resident Denise Rhodes, whose home abuts the Comolli’s quarry property, said the council could pursue purchasing the property as a means to protect the quality and quantity of ground water in the area.
Protecting the town’s drinking water supply was the central reason for entering into the agreement to buy the Cherenzia property in White Rock.