Windham digs into mineral extraction moratorium

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WINDHAM — New mineral extraction operations will be put on hold in Windham after repeated concerns about a proposed quarry near Forest Lake. 

The Windham Town Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to enact a 180-day emergency moratorium on any mineral extraction or blasting operation that is not yet permitted by the town, approved or under construction. Councilor Clayton Haskell was the only no vote on the moratorium. 

Town Planner Amanda Lessard said Wednesday that the moratorium does not impact the currently permitted use of 14 existing mineral extraction operations in town. 

Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman said the initial discussion was about a mineral extraction moratorium limited to certain watersheds in town, but that grew into a town-wide ban. 

“We are definitely going to take some heat. I’ll probably have my phone lines ringing up either tonight or tomorrow,” Chapman said. “But you know what, I think we are growing — we’re up to 18,000 people now. Things have changed.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Windham was one of the fastest growing Maine municipalities in 2016. 

Chapman asked people to be patient as the town reassesses mineral extraction, and suggested such operations can work in some areas. 

Crowded council chambers applauded Tuesday night after the vote. 

The move comes after residents from around Forest Lake — which is split between the towns of Windham, Cumberland and Gray — packed recent Council and Planning Board meetings to raise concerns about the proposed Copp Quarry project off of Lakeside Drive.

Developer Randy Copp has said at multiple meetings that he is willing to work with residents to address concerns and wants to protect the lake. 

The quarry is proposed within the town’s farm zone, which allows for mineral extraction activities. According to the moratorium, the section of the town’s land use ordinance dealing with mineral extraction has not been reevaluated since 2010. 

The moratorium language lists several reasons for enactment, highlighting the impaired or threatened status of several water bodies in Windham — including Forest Lake — and asserting that allowing mineral extraction activities to go forward under the current land use ordinance could “pose serious threats to the public health, safety and welfare of the residents of the Town.” 

A stated goal of the temporary ban is to give the town time to develop land use ordinance amendments or new ordinances to address the impacts of mineral extraction activities. 

“We do have to look at these ordinances. They’ve been on the books for a long time — things have changed in town,” said Council Vice Chairman Robert Muir. 

Councilor Rebecca Cummings thanked those in attendance Tuesday night for participating in the process. 

“We’re very pleased,” said Forest Lake Association President Janene Gorham after the vote, crediting citizen initiative “that got this going.”

Another group, Friends of Forest Lake, was formed recently by area residents concerned with the quarry proposal from father and son Elvin and Randy Copp. 

During a Council workshop on the moratorium last week, Randy Copp asked if hydro-geologists, scientists, engineers and other experts would be involved in the town process moving forward. 

“We want to be good neighbors. We want to help improve the water quality of the lake,” Copp said. “If a project like this is done right, it can be an asset to the community. Done wrong, it can be detrimental.”

“So we don’t mind taking some time, have some discussion so that it’s done right,” Copp continued. 

Windham Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Tom Bartell also spoke during last week’s workshop, where he urged the council to provide clarity for project applicants looking to navigate the moratorium process. 

“What we’re seeing now is symptoms of suburbia. We’d like to talk about how rural Windham is, and people want to move into the rural districts,” Bartell said last week. “The farm zone is our most rural district. Rural districts have farms, gravel pits, quarries — that’s what rural is about. It’s not that the farms or gravel pits or others are encroaching on residential, it’s residential is encroaching on farms and quarries and other things.” 

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

The Windham Town Council voted Tuesday night to enact a 180 moratorium on new mineral extraction operations. 

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