DUMMERSTON - Officials are pledging to investigate claims that gravel-pit blasting is shaking nearby homes.
As part of extensive negotiations to expand a gravel pit behind Hidden Acres Campground off Route 5, crews had pledged to closely monitor the effects of blasting at the nearby Poplar Commons housing site. But on Wednesday night, several residents told Dummerston Selectboard that they are hearing and feeling explosions from the pit. Given that blasting operations have just begun, some wonder whether the situation will worsen as pit work progresses.
"My fear is as they get closer, will that concussion get stronger?" asked Steve Casabona, a Poplar Commons resident.
Selectboard Chairman Zeke Goodband said there will be stepped-up monitoring during the next round of blasting, which is scheduled for Monday morning.
"We're very concerned about this," Goodband said.
State officials last year issued Act 250 land-use permits for construction of a new gravel pit owned by Renaud Gravel and for expansion of an existing pit owned by SB Lands Partnership. Plans call for the SB Lands pit to expand toward the Renaud property.
The Renaud project is expected to provide a long-term supply of road gravel for both Dummerston and Putney; the two towns will share gravel with Renaud.
All involved were lauded for their efforts to address the noise and blasting worries of Poplar Commons residents during the permitting process. There was a complaint about truck noise last year, but that was quickly addressed, and the Dummerston Development Review Board earlier this year issued a positive one-year review for both pit properties.
Casabona on Wednesday renewed his praise for pit developers, saying "they've been very congenial and very willing to negotiate with us on certain issues." But blasting activity at the SB Lands pit has brought new concerns. The first blast shook Casabona's home "significantly," he told Selectboard members.
Early last week, "I heard a siren. Blast. Movement of the house again," Casabona said. After a third and possibly stronger blast, he said, "the house not only shook, but the beams creaked."
Casabona believes he may be feeling a "concussion" traveling through the air, rather than ground vibrations from the explosions.
Poplar Commons resident Kelly McCue said she also has felt her home shake in spite of in-ground monitoring equipment that shows minimal vibrations.
"We tried to be agreeable with the negotiations with the gravel pit we didn't think we were going to see, hear or feel this thing for years to come," McCue said.
State officials are aware of the concern in relation to the pit's Act 250 permit, she added.
Also attending Wednesday's meeting was Claudia Teachman, who heads the homeowners' association at Poplar Commons. She relayed to the Selectboard a blasting complaint from another resident, who feared that "this is getting to be a not-good place to live."
Given the preventative measures and monitoring provisions that are in place, officials were puzzled by the complaints. Selectboard member Steve Glabach, a contractor who said he has experience with blasting, said he was "shocked" at what may be happening at Poplar Commons.
"I'm amazed that you're getting that concussion shock. I really am," Glabach said.
Goodband said he had spoken with Dummerston Road Foreman Lee Chamberlin and representatives of Renaud Gravel. According to town officials, the company is supervising blasting at the SB Lands pit.
Administrators "want to do the right thing" and, during the permitting process, "didn't anticipate that this would be happening," Goodband said.
Goodband said town officials and pit administrators will try to address the problem beginning on Monday, when they will be present at Poplar Commons during blasting.
"The idea is to put another monitor on the side of the house and then bring one inside and have the monitoring people right there," Goodband said.
He hopes that, by having observers at Poplar Commons when blasting occurs, "they have that experience and can figure out how to remedy the situation."
Officials also pledged to look into complaints that some blasts have not been preceded by warnings mandated in the site's Act 250 permit.
"Clearly, the communication is not working," Glabach said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.