WINDHAM — The Town Council is considering a moratorium on new mineral extraction operations as residents continue to raise concerns about a proposed quarry near Forest Lake.
“In light of a recent proposal to site a quarry near Forest Lake, and recognizing the increasingly apparent cumulative effects of growth over the last few decades, the Council will discuss whether to consider imposing a moratorium on new mineral extraction operations in Windham to allow time to review the town’s regulations and whether, where, and under what conditions such operations should be allowed,” said an overview provided in the Council’s agenda.
Residents from the Forest Lake area — which includes Cumberland, Gray, and Windham — once again packed the Windham Town Council chambers Tuesday night with many raising concerns about the quarry project proposed by father and son Elvin and Randy Copp.
Randy Copp was at the meeting Tuesday and said his father was sick and unable to attend.
According to a memo from Town Planner Amanda Lessard, the project would involve mineral extraction on 106 acres off of Lakeside Drive and the quarrying work would be done in phases. The total project would include seven lots and encompass approximately 151 acres.
“I’m huge on water quality, I’m sorry,” said Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman, who noted that the proposed quarry property has land in both the Forest Lake and Highland Lake watershed that “have an impairment issue with the DEP.”
Chapman added that “a moratorium may be an answer for that area, because of the water quality.”
Councilor Tim Nangle said he understood people being concerned with the project and asked Copp if he would want to live next to the quarry.
“That’s an inappropriate question,” responded Keith Taylor, an environmental geologist from the firm St. Germain Collins that is working with Copp on the project.
Councilor Rebecca Cummings said that as a school nurse, she takes seriously the residents’ concerns about how quarry traffic could affect safety at a nearby school bus stop, access for emergency vehicles and air quality issues.
“These are things that I am passionate about,” Cummings said.
Councilor Clayton Haskell had a slightly different take than his colleagues.
“My opinion is that this project has already been started through the Planning Board. We need to follow due process…” said Haskell, who has previously served on the Planning Board. “We need to follow the rules that are already established.”
Mineral extraction is an allowed use within the farm zone where the proposed quarry land sits.
Chapman, Nangle and Cummings were each named in a notification from the developer’s law firm ahead of Tuesday night’s meeting, which asserted that the three councilors should recuse themselves because of comments that they made about the project during last week’s council workshop. The notice alleged that the prior councilor comments violated the Copps due process right.
All three Councilors said they would not be recusing themselves, and Chapman read a response from town legal staff saying in part that “councilors are entitled to take legislative action based on opinions they hold regarding town affairs.”
“We’re allowed to look at this from a standpoint of, ‘well, what do our neighbors think?'” Nangle added after the meeting.
Copp said after the meeting that the recusal notification was driven completely by legal considerations, that he personally “didn’t agree with it all” and that it was “nothing personal” about the councilors.
“If I didn’t do it, my rights are forever lost,” he said.
Council Vice Chairman Robert Muir and Councilor Jarrod Maxfield were absent Tuesday night.
Copp said during the meeting that he felt people had “bombarded” the Council last week and presented incorrect information about his project.
“Folks, this isn’t the first land use of this type in Maine,” Copp said. “The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has extensive experience with operations like this, and they understand how an operation must be run to have safeguards for groundwater, neighbors, vibration, abutting land uses, dust, noise and stormwater runoff.”
Copp, 40, said in an interview that he’s lived in Cumberland his whole life and that his house is about a mile from the proposed quarry site. His family has been in the area for seven generations and cares about the lake’s future, he said.
Windham resident Michael Manning, who lives on Bruschi Road close to the proposed quarry site, said that he’s “never had a problem with anybody named Copp” and is friendly with members of the family.
But Manning encouraged the council to pass a moratorium on mineral extraction and take a closer look at the town’s review process for projects like this.
“I’m not asking you to stop the project, but I am asking you to enact a moratorium because it needs to be reviewed – the process that we go through in this town,” Manning said.
Lakeside Drive resident Regan Thibodeau has spoken several times before the council to express her concerns about the project and said Tuesday night that she lives about 800 feet from the proposed quarry.
“I’m very worried about protecting my kids being so close to the blasting,” said Thibodeau, who is deaf and spoke with the council through a sign language interpreter.
She identified herself as part of a group Friends of Forest Lake which was formed recently following concerns about the quarry project.
Thibodeau welcomed more conversations about the project but thought it should be put on hold until the plans could be clarified.
“Why not put the project on hold until we can talk?” she asked. `
After the meeting, Copp acknowledged that he’s fighting an uphill battle to satisfy neighborhood concerns, but said he wants to work with residents, the lake association and road association to make the project better.
“How does a guy like me apply for a quarry and not have everybody in the world — or the neighborhood — completely against me?” Copp asked.
“I really believed that I eased some of the people’s emotions — not all of them,” he added. “Some people are going to hate me ’til the day they die.”
When asked if he would consider legal action if a moratorium was passed, Copp responded that “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
“My attitude is, let’s work together to get this done,” he added.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Randy Copp adresses the Windham Town Council about his plans to build a quarry near Forest Lake.