After Georgia’s Zoning Board of Adjustment denied him twice, local businessman Jim Harrison took his proposed quarry endeavor to Act 250, seeking approval for the business sited just south of his concrete facility.
The embattled venture has been in the works since Harrison purchased the 103-acre parcel in 2007, project manager Peter Garceau of Cross Consulting Engineers said. Situated between Skunk Hill Road and Route 104A, the parcel is in Georgia’s most rural, residential district.
For this, Garceau and Harrison faced a crowd of opposition at their first Act 250 hearing on January 7, and many of the same residents who voiced vehement opposition during zoning hearings in previous years showed up to speak.
Harrison appealed the ZBA’s October 2013 denial – based on probable repeated disturbance to neighbors – and came to the state with an updated proposal, slightly smaller in scope than before.
The heavily-wooded parcel is bisected by a large ravine, dividing the proposed quarry’s extraction areas, containing Class 2 wetlands; to mitigate environmental impact, Harrison’s new plan includes a conveyor to transport product over the ravine.
Most notably, it also includes a private access road off state-owned 104A, which the Vermont Agency of Transportation OK’d pending Act 250 approval.
Over the next four hours, the three-member district environmental commission heard from Harrison, experts and opposing neighbors on three themes within the land use law’s 10 criteria: noise, history and wildlife.
Finalized in October, a noise study concluded the quarry could operate without violating Act 250 criteria, which limits acceptable noise to 70 decibels at property lines and 55 at residences, precedent shows.
RSG senior engineer Eddie Duncan said 50-60 dB is moderate sound, akin to a microwave or TV in a quiet room. Loud noises, 70-80 dB, include a vacuum cleaner or a truck passing at 30 mph.
The study gathered noise for a week in February, finding average levels at 50-55 dB at the southern end and 32-40 dB into the woods. A computer projected noise at 55 dB for the closest houses and up to 52 dB for all neighbors, Duncan said.
He recommended constructing sound barriers, limiting crushing and drilling, keeping natural terrain like trees, using modified machine back-up alarms and prohibiting engine brakes.
Commissioners and landowners wondered if noise collected in February was truly a baseline.
“Your statistics don’t tell me anything,” neighbor Sandy Read said. “I’m fine in February … the noise is nothing.”
Read asserted summer months are the loudest, when both Harrison Concrete and Gilles Rainville’s existing nearby quarry are operational.
“It could be said that you’re not measuring the true character of the area,” district coordinator Geoffrey Green said.
Act 250 Criteria
The proposed project …
1. Will not result in undue water or air pollution.
2. Has sufficient water available for the needs of the subdivision or development.
3. Will not unreasonably burden any existing water supply.
4. Will not cause unreasonable soil erosion or affect the capacity of the land to hold water.
5. Will not cause unreasonably dangerous or congested conditions with respect to highways or other means of transportation.
6. Will not create an unreasonable burden on the educational facilities of the municipality.
7. Will not create an unreasonable burden on the municipality in providing governmental services.
8. Will not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics, scenic beauty, historic sites or natural areas, and will not imperil wildlife habitat or endangered species in the immediate area.
9. Conforms with the Capability and Development Plan.
10. Is in conformance with any local or regional plan or capital facilities program.
Commission Chairman David Kimel noted Act 250 also considers an area’s character, separate from sound and aesthetics. He wondered if the board should create a maximum dB level for a project’s cumulative impact, which Duncan said would set a precedent and is impossible to predict and control.
“A car going by is seconds,” abutting landowner Lisa Maple said. “This crushing, drilling [and] blasting is constant, six days a week.”
Garceau countered this: “You’re looking at one blast a week, between 9 – 5, that lasts two seconds,” he said.
Another neighbor, Charles Leeuw, refuted this, saying residents didn’t expect the “harsh abuse” of explosions, whether they’re two or 10 seconds long.
Garceau also attempted to quell misgivings about excessive crushing, saying Harrison wouldn’t crush more rock than he could sell.
After two hours, Harrison spoke for the first time, repeating what he told the ZBA: that he and Rainville will share demand for crushed rock, so crushing activity wouldn’t increase if his quarry was built.
Neighbors also wondered aloud if Harrison would actually follow Duncan’s suggestions to suppress noise.
Garceau said many were already incorporated, but in the end, the study didn’t appear to assuage neighbors’ fears.
“People moved here for peace and quiet,” Leeuw said.
Abutter Laura Dattilio added decibel levels are arbitrary to someone living with frequent, intense noise.
“These are our lives,” she said. “This is our human experience.”
Act 250 also considers whether areas contain archaeologically or historically significant material.
A University of Vermont study determined seven of 220 test pits yielded prehistoric Native American artifacts, including tool and pottery fragments, between 1,000 and 12,000 years old, state archaeologist Scott Dillon said.
The dig concluded people may have once made stone tools there or even habited the land, close to the Lamoille River and ancient Champlain Sea.
The study determined this area is eligible for the state and national registers of historic places. Researchers recommended buffers to prevent disturbance, to which Harrison agreed, his application showed.
Harrison also implemented further buffers, as requested by Vt. Fish and Wildlife, which determined the quarry site contains a deer wintering habitat where the creatures seek refuge from harsh conditions.
The extraction area is within the recommended 300-foot buffer, wildlife specialist Amy Alfieri said, though she approved the project with two restrictions: A shutdown from December 15 to April 15 with a gated access road to discourage trespassing.
Any stockpile should be offsite, allowing the deer to winter without disturbance, Alfieri said.
Garceau assured the commission, but Dattilio vocalized suspicion, referring to a March 2014 Environmental Court decision on Harrison’s concrete facility.
The Natural Resource Board had accused him of operating vehicles outside permitted hours, but the court ruled in Harrison’s favor, citing lack of evidence despite landowner testimony.
Kimel and Green confirmed a quarry permit would outline specific definitions for “operation of hours” and “offsite” to avoid future conflict.
Neighbors added since Harrison’s turbines were built on Georgia Mountain, black bear are pushed into their yards. Maple reported spotting bear, deer, turkey, bald eagles, moose and bobcats at her home.
“These are all things that have been in our area,” she said. “I would love to see this wildlife remain and not be disturbed or scared away.”
Harrison’s next hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 28 at the ANR district #6 offices, 111 West St., Essex Jct.