The Alna fire station was the location for a public informational meeting the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 3 to discuss the possible relocation of Bailey Road. Michael Abbott, the recently hired environmental coordinator of Topsham-based Crooker Construction LLC, which operates the large gravel pit on Bailey Road and Route 218 in Alna and Whitefield, hosted the meeting. The meeting came on the heels of a Sept. 6 notice of violation received by the construction company from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection that it had excavated too close to Bailey Road, encroaching upon the required 100-foot setback from the road.
“I asked the towns – the selectmen, the planning boards – to hold a meeting to discuss the setback issue at the Whitefield pit,” said Abbott, who is a licensed professional engineer and a certified geologist. “I also invited the abutters to attend.” Abbott said he was satisfied with the turnout of 20 people for the event, which lasted approximately 90 minutes.
Abbott spoke of applying to the DEP for a variance request to move the road to have only a 50-foot setback from Bailey Road to the berm that separates the pit from the road. He said it would be less costly for his company to move the road than to infill the existing area with thousands of yards of dirt to meet setback requirements.
Abbott said the company had previously “incorrectly determined (the setback) as between the excavation face and the road. It is actually from the road to the berm.”
The conversation became lively as Abbott passed around large photographs of the pit area and a map with proposed road changes, which include adding “two curves and a dip and a rise” to the road, Abbott said. A number of those in attendance voiced numerous concerns and questions.
One man, whose property abuts the pit site, was concerned with property value. Another man in attendance asked how deep the gravel pit is. “What is the limit of how deep you can dig?” another said.
“We’re not going to gain any more gravel by moving the road,” Abbott said to a questioner who was skeptical about Crooker Construction’s intentions.
“Moving the road – is that Crooker’s recommendation?” Whitefield Selectman Lester Sheaffer said.
“It is one solution,” Abbott said. “It’s an idea. It needs to be acceptable to abutters.”
One of those abutters, Alna resident Kim Weeks, was supportive of the possible road relocation. “If that’s the way they’ve got to fix it, that’s the way they’ve got to fix it. People do make mistakes,” she said. “I’m all good being a neighbor to the pit. They’re the best neighbors I’ve got. … Make them accountable for their mistakes, but there’s no need to browbeat them.”
Abbott brought up the possibility of adding a snow fence as well, getting into a discussion with Weeks about snow drift in the area.
Abbott said that Crooker Construction needs to show the DEP that something is being done to resolve the setback problem. “I’ve let them know we’re actively talking with the towns,” he said, adding that the DEP requested “timely cooperation” without specifying a definite date of resolution.
“What’s in it for us?” said one attendee.
“Free gravel for the rest of our lives!” one woman said, prompting laughter in the room.
“We can improve this road,” Abbott said, becoming serious. “We can make this road into whatever condition we want. We could grade it better, pitch it better.” He said the company could even consider paving it, drawing audible groans from some in the room.
Whitefield Selectman Tony Marple said a comprehensive proposal with tree-plantings, etc., would likely be necessary to have the town approve the road relocation, even though only a small section of the road in question is in Whitefield.
“Most people in Whitefield don’t use Bailey Road at all,” one person said.
Whitefield Planning Board member Stephen Sheehy said there should be some benefit to the town of Whitefield. “It would make it easier to sell to the town meeting,” he said, suggesting that a cash payment might be nice. “If there’s some cash flowing to the town, it might make a difference.”
One woman asked how much Crooker Construction would save by moving the road instead of infilling toward the pit. “I don’t know,” Abbott said.
Sheaffer asked about the timeline for the possible road project, as Whitefield’s annual town meeting is not until March.
“I think the DEP’s going to want to know what we are going to do sooner than that,” said Abbott.
“You’re impacting other people by creating a hazardous road,” said one abutter of the proposed new road, which would likely include a drop in elevation of 7 or 8 feet in one section.
“I’m not suggesting we create a hazardous road,” Abbott said, adding that his company could reroute the road differently than he had proposed. “There are options. It’s no problem to build a road on a slope like that. Build a guardrail or something like that.”
“Would this work if Whitefield couldn’t even make a decision?” said Marple.
Abbott said Crooker is not “proposing ‘this is what we want to do. Can we do it?’ We’re just discussing. I am starting to see that it’s maybe not the best decision. … We’ll be having some discussions right away (at the company). We’re not going to just start doing it.”
It is possible that Crooker Construction will not decide to seek a variance permit to move the road.
“We will come up with a more specific proposal, which may or may not need to be put before the towns,” Abbott said after the meeting. If the construction company decides not to pursue moving the road, there will be no need to notify towns and abutters.
“Based on the feedback at the meeting, I didn’t get the impression that (moving the road) was the most popular solution,” Abbott said.
After the meeting, Alna Planning Board member Beth Whitney said she had “no opinion” on the matter.
“I don’t live down that way,” she said, noting that “the Whitefield people were noisier than the Alna people.”
“Our planning board has no opinion at this point in time because we haven’t discussed it yet. It wasn’t even on the agenda (at last night’s meeting),” Whitney said.
(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article online and in the Oct. 5 print edition incorrectly identified Whitefield Planning Board member Stephen Sheehy. The Lincoln County News regrets the error.)