By Beth David, Editor
The Acushnet Soil Board, which is comprised of the Selectboard members, received the long awaited permit application from PJ Keating for the quarry, which has not been operating for more than a year.
The company had argued in court that they did not need a permit because they had been operating on the site for more than 100 years. The company lost that argument last April and agreed to apply for the permit, which will, presumably, include operating restrictions.
A couple of other lawsuits are also gumming up the works on the asphalt side of the operation, a cease and desist order from the Board of Health, and another court decision in favor of the town, all culminating in the company submitting the application on Tuesday, 3/6/23, at the public hearing. A standing-room-only crowd of more than 125 people packed the room and out the door at the Council on Aging/Senior Center. Around 30 people wore “YES” stickers to show support for the company re-opening. Many of them said they were PJK employees.
PJ Keating’s new president, Derrick Hill, opened up by noting that the operational quarry is important for the South Coast economy. He said the bluestone quarry dates back to the 1880’s, and the asphalt plant has been there since the 1950s.
Since the quarry has been shut down, he said the company has had to use material from other facilities owned by its parent company, CRH, adding to cost and more trucking.
“We are the circular economy,” said Mr. Hill, saying they produce a stone, it goes into concrete or roads, and when they have served their usefulness, they are recycle and brought back into the stream as a percentage of the product, including a failed roadway that goes back in. “We are a sustainable product.”
The quarry has “proven reserves” of 50 million tons, with a peak of 1.2 million extracted in a year. The property has 381 acres, with some of it undeveloped, some of it wet.
Soil Board chairperson Kevin Gaspar said the ultimate purpose of the hearings and permit should be for the town and its residents to coexist with the company, something they have done for more than 100 years.
Board member David Wojnar the change in the bylaw allows the town to put in “guardrails.” The footprint, the amount of activity is “clearly: not 1880 volume, and 1950 is along way off.
“So let’s be realistic about what we’re dealing with now,” said Mr. Wojnar, adding he is looking at the impact on the community and how to make life better for the people who live in the neighborhood.
Mr. Wojnar said he would “fight tooth and nail” for the quality of life of the neighbors, and he would fight for PJK to operate.
Mr. Gaspar said the problem was capacity and how much more dust the company is producing in the neighborhood.
“Nobody deserves to live that way,” said Mr. Gaspar, who then proceeded to go through the 120 page permit with specific questions.
Both the board and the company agreed that the document needed to be peer reviewed by a qualified engineering firm.
Mr. Gaspar and company representatives discussed hours of operation, blasting schedule, dust and noise mitigation, and stormwater control.
“What I see is same old, same old,” said Mr. Gaspar. “This is what we tried in the past and it hasn’t worked.”
He said residents have been disrespected in the past with complaints being ignored, adding it is “inexcusable” to tell residents, “I don’t see it, smell it,” which the company has claimed in the past.
He said if the company does everything they say and there are no complaints, then their permit would be renewed every year without public hearings.
“We have a lot of money invested in this rodeo, we can’t stop now,” said Mr. Gaspar.
Mr. Hill said the company has invested $3 million in a variety of measures to mitigate dust and noise, but the quarry has been shut down so they haven’t been tested. They bought a $550,000 state-of-the-art water truck, put covers on the conveyers, installed an automatic water sprinkler system for road ust control, and other measures.
He noted a couple of measures taken at the Cranston, RI, plant, including a street sweeper on site at all times.
Mr. Wojnar asked to get a tour of that facility.
SB member Bob Hinckley told Mr. Hill that as the new president, he had an obligation to listen to the complaints, that residents need to feel heard.
Mr. Hinckley said the town needs to feel like it’s appreciated, and the company needs to listen to the concerns of residents.
Resident Kevin Smith said he had heard it all before, including the automatic sprinkler that doesn’t work. He said he bought his house 41 years ago when the plant was a third the size it is now.
“I’m not anti-business,” said Mr. Smith, and pointed to the people in the back that have been out of work, but because of PJK. They could have easily solved the problems if they did what they said they were going to do.
Mr. Smith also asked if the dust they have been breathing in is toxic, noting there are seven cases of cancer just on Lawson Street.
“All I want to see is them be a good neighbor,” said Mr. Smith. “Be a good neighbor. Keep the dust down. And just don’t talk to us like we’re idiots.”
“Just be honest and up front with us,” added Mr. Smith. “And do what you say you’re going to do.”
Douglas Thomas submitted a petition to the board that Mr. Gaspar read. Mr. Thomas said moving the asphalt plant near the road was a “giant mistake,” and he is asking for them to move it back.
“Shame on the people that signed that documentation to allow this to happen,” said Mr. Thomas.
Mr. Gaspar agreed that the town bears some responsibility for the situation.
Michael Ventura, a resident and PJK employee, said the town and residents keep putting up road blocks.
“Give us a chance,” he said, and said the “elephant in the room” was that no matter what they do, some people will complain, their minds are made up. “All I’m asking you guys to do is be fair. All we want to do is make a living.”
One woman said it was frustrating to hear they should not have bought houses near the quarry. When she bought her house 30 years ago it was not the same, and the company is now talking about 50 years from now.
“We’re not holding you back. They’re holding you back,” she said, adding that if they had done what they were supposed to do, they would be open.
Mr. Gaspar said they were “all aligned” with the same goal of coexisting.
“I know we’re going to figure this out,” said Mr. Gaspar. “There’s no question in my mind.”
In the end, the board voted to have the document peer reviewed, and to continue the hearing to April 11 at 5 p.m.
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