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Carrara gravel pit draws fire

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July 26, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

EAST MIDDLEBURY — East Middlebury residents turned out in force at a public hearing on Monday to register their concerns about a proposed major expansion of the J.P. Carrara & Sons gravel pit operation off School House Hill Road.

The overflow crowd at the municipal building conference room told members of the Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) that the plan to extend the Carrara pit by a total of 20 acres to the east and west of School House Hill Road would bring more years of noise, dust and safety headaches to a neighborhood that has already lived with the operation for more than three decades.

J.P. Carrara & Sons is currently phasing out gravel extraction at its current 23.4-acre pit, located to the immediate east of School House Hill Road. The company wants to extend its operations 15.3 acres to the east of its existing pit, and another 5 acres to the west of School House Hill Road.

Company officials told the DRB that they anticipate approximately 25 years of life in the new area they are proposing to mine for sand and gravel. Bill Townsend, Carrara’s property manager, said the company cannot pinpoint exactly how many trucks it would send in and out of the gravel pit each day. Extraction rates, he explained, are determined in part by the type of gravel and sand needed to make concrete at Carrara’s plant on Route 116. There have been days when trucks have made more than 90 trips to and from the pit, and two-week stretches during which there has been no activity at the facility, according to Townsend.

“It’s not something we can predict, from year to year, how much material we will take out,” Townsend said.

But company officials did estimate the need for upwards of 4,500 truck trips per year, with occasional heavy use on isolated days.

“We feel, for us to meet our future demand and needs, there needs to be days where we are able to have 125 truck trips,” Townsend told the DRB.

That number didn’t sit well with the more than 40 East Middlebury residents who listened to Townsend’s presentation.

Route 125 resident Howard Kelton said the 125 round trips would translate into 250 trucks passing next to his home. Under those circumstances, he calculated he would see 31 trucks per hour — or one every two minutes — during an eight-hour workday.

“I wish someone would come sit on my screen porch and listen,” Kelton said, alluding to the noise generated by the trucks.

Church Street resident Susan Shashok urged the DRB to consider not only the noise and added traffic generated by the gravel-bearing trucks, but the safety of children walking along village sidewalks to popular destinations like the Harold Curtiss Recreational park off School House Hill Road.

She urged the DRB to consider the character of the neighborhood and property boundaries as it determines whether to give Carrara the go-ahead it needs to proceed with the pit expansion. The project will also need an Act 250 permit.

“What I’m concerned about, in general … is the quality of community life and the health of the community going down several notches,” said resident Reiner Winkler.

Resident Elizabeth Russell raised concerns about dust escaping from the trucks as they travel between the pit and concrete plant on Route 116. Company officials acknowledged that the truck beds are not covered.

“It’s very dangerous,” she said, of the prospect of stone-related dust getting into the lungs of children visiting the Harold Curtiss playground.

Resident Jason Mittell noted that children at the Middlebury Cooperative Nursery School must cross School House Hill Road to get to the playground and to go to morning “story times” at the Sarah Partridge Community Library.

“At least two or three times a week, you have 20 or so three-, four- and five-year-olds walking across a route where trucks may be going by every two minutes,” Mittell said.

Resident Al Richards told DRB members he believes the gravel pit and associated truck traffic is affecting property values in East Middlebury. He and other citizens at the hearing noted that when the gravel pit was originally established during the early 1970s, there was no local zoning. They argued the pit would likely not be permitted today, given its proximity to East Middlebury village and the advent of town zoning ordinances.

“This pit should not be within the village,” Richards said. “We’ve all been very tolerant during the past 30-some-odd years, but I think (the pit) should stop, period.”

Carrara and other parties are poised to take steps to improve School House Hill Road in anticipation of the potential new traffic from the gravel pit expansion and residential development in the area.

The town of Middlebury, J.P. Carrara & Sons and the A. Johnson Co. — the last of which is proposing a 43-unit subdivision near the Middlebury State Airport — have tentatively agreed to share the $450,000 costs of widening School House Hill Road and equipping it with a sidewalk.

Some residents contend, however, that upgrades to School House Hill Road should be considered completely separate from the gravel pit and A. Johnson Co. projects.

The DRB is scheduled to conduct a site visit at the proposed pit expansion area on Monday, July 30, at 5 p.m. Participants will meet at the Harold Curtiss playground.

Meanwhile, the Prudential Committee will meet on Tuesday, July 31, at 7 p.m. at the East Middlebury United Methodist Church, to discuss the pit proposal.

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