By Beth David, Editor
The Acushnet Board of Health held a special meeting to give residents a chance to weigh in on proposed changes at the PJ Keating asphalt plant. And weigh in they did, with many complaining about a host of issues associated with the quarry.
The company was formerly Tilcon Mass., but merged with PJ Keating in 2003. In 1999 Oldcastle Materials bought PJ Keating.
The Acushnet quarry mines a variety of high quality “aggregates,” or rock, at the site. The stone is then crushed to varying sizes and mixed to create asphalt for paving roads. The quarry opened in 1914, and the asphalt operations began in 1933.
The Acushnet facility is the largest supplier of construction materials in Southeastern Mass. and is the primary source of aggregate for Mass Department of Transportation and municipal projects. It employes about 140 at the Acushnet plant.
Nearly 50 people attended the meeting on Tuesday, 5/16, at the Council on Aging. One after the other, neighbor after neighbor scolded PJK for spewing unbearable dust that collects on houses, cars, children’s toys, in swimming pools, and makes life unbearable at times. Residents said they cannot open windows or enjoy their yards in the warm weather.
Kevin Younkin, VP of Equipment and Business Development, told the crowd that the company wants to upgrade the plant and also wants to access the material under the existing plant. The new location will also cut out about 1.5 miles of travel for trucks that currently need to run to the back of the property.
Mr. Younkin told the crowd that the company tries to be a good civic neighbor by supporting sports and other town activities. He pointed to the recent donation of 21 acres for a walking trail.
“When the town asks for something, we are responsive,” he said .
BOH chairperson David Davignon told residents that the company had applied for a building permit to relocate its asphalt plant from the rear of the property to the front of the property on South Main Street. Two bylaws changes, one in 2014 and one in 2016, paved the way for the company to attempt the move. Because of those changes, the company is within the regulations and cannot be denied the permit, said Mr. Davignon.
The BOH must also sign off on it, though, and they have held it up to get more information on the three areas within their purview: Noise, odor, and air quality. If the company submits a reasonable mitigation plan for those three things, then the BOH cannot stop the building permit.
He said the company is trying to work with the town, and urged residents to try to be cognizant of that and be respectful of company reps.
Anthony Demello told officials that the stuff floating around the air is a carcinogen and every year the dust gets worse. He said the operation with lights and noise was like the “Six Flags,” theme park.
“I don’t have a lot of money,” said Mr. Demello. “All I’ve got is what I’ve got.”
“I’m very worried about the health of my children,” said Linda Skapik, adding that they cannot play in the yard because of the dust. She said it embarrassed her, and the smell could be unbearable.
“Some days it’s bad enough,” she said. “Never mind closer.”
Many people said it had gotten worse in the last two years, although Mr. Younkin said operations have not changed, so he was not sure why people were noticing a difference.
Neighbors said operations seem to be going on all night now, which could be a result of the 2014 zoning bylaw change which created an industrial zone for the plant. It had been zoned residential before 2014, with the plant being “grandfathered” in, or receiving an automatic waiver because it was already there.
“The dust is just ridiculous,” said Roy Tripp, who lives about 600 feet from the quarry. “[The town] sold us out in 2014 at some meeting we didn’t even go to.”
Several residents also complained about vibrations, and said they were worried about what it was doing to their foundations. Some said they have seen cracks in the stone.
“The air conditioner vibrates. It shouldn’t vibrate,” said Cheryl Hall, who also got in a word about the dust. “Something has got to be done about that level of quarry dust.”
She said her dog got sick after she moved to her house on South Main Street. Other residents reiterated the health issues, saying that the area had a higher number of people on oxygen and with cancer.
Several residents said they remembered when Mr. Anderson was working there and would be very responsive to complaints, but that was a long time ago.
Now residents are stuck paying phone tag with public relations people, said Deb Polchlopek
In the end the BOH did not vote, but urged the company to reconsider its plans to move the plant to the location. Mr. Younkin said there may very well be alternatives and pointed to some other spots on the map that might work for the company.
The BOH will hold another meeting in about a month. The date will be announced. Residents can watch the meeting on Acushnet cable access channel 18, or online, through a link from the town’s website, www.acushnet.ma.us