Big bang fury: Blasts rattle neighbors' homes
TIVERTON — His foundation is full of cracks, and he's had his windows and chimney redone. He points down the road to other houses with similar problems.
"We've been getting blown up for years," says Lou Farias, who with with his wife Cheryl, lives at the intersection of Linda and Fish Roads, just across the street from Tiverton Materials' quarry.
For months the quarry, under new ownership since last spring, has been detonating explosives among rocks and in ledge, and shipping the sand, stones, and gravel product out by the truckload.
Interviewed the week before Thanksgiving in front of his home, Mr. Farias said, "I have a problem with some of the blasts. Some are too much. I don't mind them doing their business, but it's the size of the blast.
For example, "Yesterday, boom, it goes off. It went off. The dogs freaked out," he said. "It's not routine. It seems like it's averaging about once a week."
"And there's dust," he said. "A lot of it. They call me now to shut the windows. We'll come home sometimes in the summertime, and I'll tell you, it's a mess. We get the worst of it."
Steve Halajko works in sales at Tiverton Materials, the company that's doing the blasting at 810 Fish Road. He sits all day in the shack behind the scales that weigh the trucks leaving the quarry with their loads, and watches traffic along Fish Road.
"I give people a 24 hour notice and a one hour notice" about blasting, he said. "If they want to be called, we call. I put them on a list." Only two people are on the list so far, he said, one of whom is Mr. Farias.
West down Linda Road a few houses from Mr. Farias lives Robert Toolin. Mr. Toolin says his home shows cracks in his fireplace, driveway, and foundation, that he believes may have been caused by blasting, and that the matting in pictures on his wall has been shaken loose inside the frame.
Mr. Toolin has kept a record, documenting 11 blasts since June 4, 2013, nine of which shook his house, and one that rattled dishes. He says he reported six to the state fire marshal, one to town hall.
He says the water main under Linda Road has had seven breaks in recent years.
Other residents of Linda Road have similar complaints, and recently late one night in Town Hall the residents told town councilors and planning board members what it's like to live near a blasting zone.
"I've complained constantly," Amos Lamora told the officials at the rare joint meeting on Nov. 19, when town councilors and planning board members convened, in part, to consider revisions to ordinances regulating quarrying licenses and zoning.
Word of their meeting got out, however, and the residents went to Town Hall to have their say. It was not a public hearing, no notice had been given. No representatives from quarries were present.
But the residents had stories they were there to tell, and the council allowed them to — at the very end of a long meeting about zoning and licensing.
Mr. Lamora said there are cracks in his ceiling, and that when people complain about damage to their chimneys, for example, nothing happens.
"The state issues the blasting permit, but the town issues the permit for the quarry, so the town is responsible as far as I'm concerned," he said.
Another resident, John Oliviera, told the officials, "we've called police and we get nowhere. It's disrespectful to a neighborhood to let the blasting go on."
He said, "the last couple of weeks it's been bad."
His son, Garrett Oliveira, who lives across Linda Road, said, "things that I've felt in the last two weeks are much worse than I've felt in the past."
In a walk along the road, nearly every resident contacted had a story to tell. One resident, who didn't want to be identified by name, said "it feels like the house pops up. A big one feels like a shotgun blast."
Another resident says pictures have been knocked off the wall, and that there are cracks in his basement floor.
Steve Halajko, a sales executive at Tiverton Materials' quarry said, "we're a live quarry, and have been since 1955." Some of the quarry cliffs are 50 feet high, he said.
"We have a kind of confused situation," about the quarry licensing issue, Town Solicitor Andrew Teitz told the officials at the joint meeting.
The town and local quarries — there are believed to be five of them, including the one on Fish Road — have dug themselves into a hole as a result of years of lax compliance with, and enforcement of, local licensing laws.
The quarries face a lot of work, and expense, to get into compliance. But the town cannot easily enforce against past transgressions.
All but one of the five alleged quarries lack current licenses to operate, the town claims.
But for several years, at the least, the town has taken no action to force them to comply with the local licensing requirements.
One of the quarries has been in receivership, halting enforcement action, Mr. Teitz said. Another has renewed its license, but may not be conducting quarrying activities. Another may not have a current license, but may not be quarrying either.
Another claims it's not quarrying, just clearing land, and the town is in litigation with that company, Mr. Teitz said.
The town has a process for annually licensing quarries, which it has not kept up with, Mr. Teitz said. The licensing function has been handled by the council itself since 2010. Before that time, it was handled by the town building official.
The town is proposing action to clear the mess up, by taking action going forward, not by looking back, Mr. Teitz said.
"Because of the town's lack of strict enforcement before now, I'm hesitant to go into court relying on past action," he said.
The first step now, said Mr. Teitz, "is putting everyone on notice."
Mr. Teitz said letters will soon be sent by certified mail to all quarries in town, "to make it clear, that if you want to continue, you have to come in and get licensed."
Only one quarry, Mr. Teitz said, currently has a license that meets all legal requirements: CMC Family Limited Partnership at 1764 Crandall Road.
The licensing process
The licensing process may take some time — perhaps months — and meantime it is unclear whether the blasting at the 810 Fish Road quarry, or elsewhere if there is any, will continue.
License applications will need to be filled out, accompanied by plans that show what the proposed contours of the blasting will be.
Those contours will rely on surveys that need to be prepared, showing what the contours were in 2001, or if need be earlier, and what they will be when the quarrying is completed.
In addition, "We've got to get somebody out to the site. That's paramount to understanding the scope and scale of these operations. We have to have somebody looking into the hole," said Council member Brett Pelletier.
"That's a fundamental part of the licensing process," said Mr. Teitz. "The right to inspect."
Applicants will also need to submit plans for reclaiming the quarry land, showing what steps will be taken to restore it to its earlier condition.
Then the applicants will need to purchase a bond to cover the potential costs of such restoration.
All along the way, engineers for the town and the quarrying company will have to confer regarding the scope and contours of the operations and the adequacy of the restoration plans, and the dollar bonding amounts needed to cover those plans.
"The problem is, the bonds in the past have been ridiculously small," said Mr. Teitz. "For example, $500-$800 to reclaim acres and acres, when the fact is, it's up to potentially millions to do it properly."
"That's where I expect we will have conflict," he said.
The licensing process will involved first the planning board, which will review the license application, then the town council, which will make its ultimate licensing decision after considering the planning board's recommendation.
To further prolong the process, public hearings must be held for each license applicant.
Even as the applicants are being asked to submit license applications under the existing town ordinances, consideration is being given to revising or amending the process, which will itself be the occasion for public hearings.