The Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday referred the Goodale Construction Company’s decades old and unique gravel mining operation to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), for review as a development of regional impact (DRI).
The unanimous vote followed complaints from neighbors near the massive sand pit just off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road at the blinker intersection, about new fencing, planned expansion of the pit, fumes from an asphalt plant on the property, and firearms target training and practice that takes place there.
The MVC review could significantly affect a resource Island contractors and town officials describe, and neighbors acknowledge, is vital to construction and road projects.
The town building inspector, conservation agent, health inspector, and police chief have all reviewed the mining operation, in response to the neighbors’ concerns, and found no violation of any applicable laws.
Also, at the initiation of neighbors and the MVC, the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program has ordered the plant’s owner, Jerry Goodale, to stop clearing land and not to expand the pit beyond its current boundaries, pending a state review.
At Tuesday’s regular selectmen’s meeting, neighbors, including many homeowners in the Little Pond Road area, packed the room. About 50 people, a standing-room-only crowd, were there when the meeting began. Mr. Goodale was there too with his son Peter, who helps manage the company.
Neighbors told selectmen about a list of more than 20 concerns that surfaced this spring when Mr. Goodale built fencing around a large section of his property and began clearing trees and brush to expand the sand pit.
Doug Reece spoke for the Little Pond Road Association, which has organized opposition to the expansion.
“What began as a local issue with respect to our neighborhood concerns, specifically property values and safety, quickly escalated to a larger issue,” Mr. Reece told selectmen, reading from a prepared statement. He said neighbors recognize the mining operation as a vital resource. “We have no intention of interfering with their rights or their ability to operate as a lawful entity. What is needed is the assurance that the company is operating within all applicable laws and they demonstrate a respect for the environment.”
Little Pond Road Association member Mike Shabazian asked what will happen with the pit once all the gravel is mined.
“We’re concerned about the reclamation process,” Mr. Shabazian said. “What is the end game of a depleted resource? At some point in time, it will be gone. What is to become of it? Is there a responsible action plan?”
A tower that is part of the asphalt plant operated by White Brothers-Lynch Corporation was also a target of critics. That company replaced the tower this year with a new tower about twice as high as the old one. The tower holds hot mixed asphalt to be loaded into trucks that transport the asphalt to job sites.
Neighbors questioned the visual impact of the tower and fumes from the asphalt production process. Several neighbors described the fumes as noxious and contend they are a public health threat.
Neighbors also complained about the visual impact of the chain link fencing, about police firearms training and recreational target shooting, and about a new road to replace an access road that now crosses the part of the Goodale property that has been fenced recently.
Peter Goodale answered some of the questions. “The pit actually started prior to 1948,” Peter Goodale said. “The fence is entirely on our property. The fence is not over six feet, so it did not require a permit.”
Peter Goodale also said his company got permission from the Oak Bluffs road committee to move the access road.
“The asphalt plant has been on that property since 1943,” Jerry Goodale said. “At one time in the ’70′s, there were two plants. Asphalt has a smell, I won’t argue with that. It is not noxious. Every year White-Lynch has to submit data to the EPA (the federal Environmental Protection Agency) proving that they meet their regulations. We have talked about reclamation, but we haven’t come up with a plan yet.”
Several neighbors raised questions about a lengthy stockade fence erected on a nearby parcel Mr. Goodale owns off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road opposite the Island alpaca farm and along Head of the Pond Road. Peter Goodale said there are no immediate plans to mine the property for construction materials, but that could happen later.
Town administrator Michael Dutton told selectmen he asked several town officials to review the construction operation.
Mr. Dutton said building inspector Jerry Weiner does not believe the asphalt tower required a building permit.
“It’s a machine,” Mr. Weiner said in a phone conversation with The Times Monday. “It doesn’t meet the definition of a structure.”
Mr. Dutton said conservation agent Liz Durkee visited the site and saw no violation of wetland protection or environmental laws.
He said health inspector Shirley Fauteux made a site visit and found no health issues related to lead bullets used in firearms training.
Police chief Erik Blake said town bylaws require a target range be more than 500 feet from a road, on private property, and operational only between 7 am and 11 pm. He said Mr. Goodale currently complies with all those regulations.
“Obviously, this is an operation that is responsible for building everybody’s house who is sitting here, in one form or another,” said selectmen Greg Coogan. “I think we need a little bit of time, a little bit of expertise to answer these question. They are serious questions. We have to be in this to look at both sides of the issue.”
“I kind of like the idea of referring it to the MVC right away,” said newly elected selectman Walter Vail. “If we can get help from the commission, I’d like to get that started.”
The board voted unanimously to refer the operation to the MVC, citing two provisions of the DRI checklist, the document town officials use to decide if a project requires review. Section 3.1g, which says any “increase in intensity of use,” triggers a review. Also cited was section 1.6, which says a review is triggered by “clearing or topographical alteration of land that is identified by any state or federal or local agency as being of wildlife habitat significance.”
Both situations trigger “concurrence reviews,” unlike other triggers that require mandatory reviews. In a concurrence review, the commission could decide the operation has a regional impact, accept the referral, hold public hearings, and issue a permit with conditions, or it could decide the operation does not rise to the level of a regional impact, reject the review, and return it to the town for action under its own bylaws.
Mining and manufacturing
The massive sandpit is on a 100-acre parcel roughly bounded by Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and Barnes Road. Goodale Construction mines the sand, and screens out the rocks to be crushed into different size stones. The material is used on job sites for everything from building roads, to backfill, to septic leaching fields.
The company also manufactures concrete products, including blocks, bricks, and pre-cast concrete products such as septic tanks. The operation employs about 20 people.
The White Brothers-Lynch Corporation rents land from Goodale Construction for the asphalt plant, which operates for six months of the year, from late spring to early fall. Officials of that company were not available for comment.
The construction materials are important to Island contractors and town governments. Without a local supply of crushed stone, concrete, pre-cast concrete products, and asphalt, contractors would bring all those materials from off-Island, either by barge or truck. Contractors say that would substantially increase the cost of construction.
Nantucket does not have a local source of construction materials, and contractors there bring everything they need to the island by barge.
The entire parcel is in a district zoned residential, but the sand and gravel mining, as well as concrete and asphalt production, pre-date zoning laws.
The land use is governed by Massachusetts general law, Chapter 40A, section 6, which outlines exceptions to zoning regulations for land use begun before the town implemented zoning laws. The law says zoning regulations cannot be applied to a pre-existing structure or use, unless there is “any change or substantial extension of such use.” The law also says no “extension or alteration shall be permitted unless there is a finding by the permit granting authority…that such change, extension or alteration shall not be substantially more detrimental than the existing nonconforming use to the neighborhood.”
In 2005, the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) has designated all the land surrounding the sand pit, as well as the land where the Little Pond Road Association homeowners built their homes, as “priority habitat.”
In a letter to Mr. Goodale, the owner, assistant director Thomas French acknowledged that Mr. Goodale had agreed by phone to stop clearing land and vegetation.
“As you are aware, our staff has agreed to conduct a site visit with you shortly in an effort to resolve this matter in a timely fashion,” Mr. French wrote. “To avoid possible civil and criminal penalties, no additional land, soil, or vegetation alteration, or construction may be initiated outside of the existing extraction pit boundaries.”
According to the NHESP website, large sections of Martha’s Vineyard are designated as priority habitat, because biologists have identified the scrub oak, pine, and low vegetation, as habitat for the coastal heathland cutworm and the pine barrens zale moth, two species of “special concern.” Landowners can proceed with projects that may impact listed species, termed a “take” in conservation jargon, but must first apply for a management permit. A permit for work on a property the size of the Goodale pit costs $4,000.
NHESP may grant a permit if the impact is minimal, if there are no good alternatives, or if there is an accepted mitigation plan. A mitigation plan often means if a priority habitat is disturbed, the landowner must protect priority habitat in another location. A landowner could be permitted to clear land, for example, if he agreed never to disturb another parcel of priority habitat he owns.