Gravel Pit Subcommittee of the Select Board
Tuesday, May 19, 2020, 3:00 pm
Locations: Gravel pit, Town offices and via Zoom
Site visit attendees: Subcommittee members Ryan Stone (Chair), Wes Tarr, Mike Davidson, Scott Neary, Kathy Scott, Max Boyd, and AOT consultant Don Scott. Members of the public: Catherine Neary, Ned Hulbert, Sherry Sims, Erik Anderson, Kyle Anderson, Eric Masterson
Meeting attendees: Subcommittee members Ryan Stone, Wes Tarr, Scott Neary, Mike Davidson, Max Boyd, Kathy Scott and AOT consultant Don Scott.
Members of the public attending via zoom: Erik Anderson, Lisa Anderson, Olivia Belanger, Linda Taylor, Rich Taylor, Dudley Baker, Anne Howe, Constance Boyd, Ned Hulbert, Melody Moschan, Sherry Sims, Winston Sims
The Gravel Pit Subcommittee and members of the public met at the Hancock Road entrance of the town gravel operation on Tuesday, May 19, 2020 at 3:00 for a one-hour walkthrough of the newly purchased gravel pit that lies adjacent. The purpose of this was to acclimate committee members and the public to the current conditions of the parcel, to assess operating areas in relation to abutters and neighbors, and to discuss potential plans for excavation and reclamation with the goal of minimizing impact to the surrounding properties.
Referring to an existing site plan, AOT consultant Don Scott showed attendees the boundaries of the existing parcels and noted sections which lie open from previously permitted excavation work. Mr. Scott also stated that, for the AOT permitting process, a detailed survey, including topographical contours, will be prepared by a licensed surveyor. Attendees viewed the site lines and proximity to the Anderson property, then viewed the area between the old and new parcels, and then moved toward the Jaquith Road perimeter to assess the locations of other abutters, as well as the adjacent hiking trail.
Questions that arose related to vegetation and terrain buffers along the boundaries, including plans to stabilize slopes, as well as timelines for, and potential locations of, excavation all as means of addressing visual and noise impacts. In addition, committee members described how the interior road would be upgraded and how this will improve safety of town vehicles using the road, and allow for access to operations to occur only via Hancock Road and not Jaquith Road. This also will mitigate noise. In walking the area on the Jaquith Road boundary at the access to the hiking trail, the committee and abutters discussed ideas for enhanced parking as a potential added benefit of the site, though a consensus on a specific location or layout could not be reached. All agreed this was best left for future discussion.
Following the site visit, committee members relocated to the town offices to continue their discussion, while members of the public relocated to attend remotely.
Subcommittee meeting at town offices
Chair Ryan Stone first reviewed the agenda, and conducted a roll call of the committee attendees and the public. The committee then unanimously approved the minutes of this May 5th meeting.
Subsequently, Don Scott reviewed the excavation procedures and permitting requirements, also discussed at the first meeting on May 5th. He explained that, if the town decides to move to expand the working area beyond 100,000 square feet, the Alteration of Terrain permit will be required. This would entail extensive surveys of both properties, operational plans for erosion control, surface waters and protection of groundwater. Once areas are deemed complete, slopes are stabilized, loamed and reseede. The AOT application date hasn’t quite been determined as, for now, the town anticipates staying within the open areas.
Kathy Scott reminded everyone that the town is bound to follow RSA 155e in all aspects, except in the case where it’s exempt from taxation. Referring to the checklists on the projection screen, she noted which requirements overlap with AOT requirements and which lie outside of the AOT.
Public comment on site visit, operational standards and concerns related to excavation
Mr. Sims thanked the committee for the site visit. To his question about the amount of sand and gravel that remains to be removed, the committee noted the report, prepared by Seth Kallman in January 2020, is on file for review at town offices.
Lisa Anderson asked if the committee has talked to town counsel or the New Hampshire Municipal Association about the requirements of 155e, as she believes there’s a difference of opinion on these regarding municipal ownership of operations. Kathy Scott replied that she did get confirmation from NHMA on town requirements. Ms. Anderson then asked the committee to again project the four provisions, numbers 13-16, which lie outside the AOT permitting process and which address visual impact, noise and dust. Mr. Scott pointed to item 16, requiring that existing visual barriers will not be removed. The committee acknowledged that reclamation will be done upon completion of operation and that this hasn’t been done on the O’Neil property as they had not completed work and because the property was in transition. Mr. Scott emphasized that the town will still be held to these standards. Kathy Scott reaffirmed that all matters will be addressed whether via 155 e or the AOT process. Mr. Anderson noted he found the property boundary pin exactly at the point of excavation, where a buffer is supposed to be observed. The committee acknowledged this.
Max Boyd asked for confirmation that the interior road between the pits that is used for transport can be upgraded without going through the AOT process. The committee confirmed yes.
Ryan Stone reviewed that, at the site visit, attendees walked the O’Neil site, discussed the boundaries, looked at one corner pin, looked at exterior perimeter lines, reviewed the existing staging area where sifting was done previously, briefly discussed potential excavation locations, and areas that possibly can be reclaimed now along the rail trail area and along the southern boundary. Mr. Tarr confirmed that the crew tends to work within the pit approximately one week per month between April and November, with the tendency to be in and out. The committee also confirmed that given the lack of consensus among abutters on creating additional parking for the rail trail and the lack of immediate need, discussion of this matter would be postponed.
Committee deliberation on site visit, standards of operation and public comment
It was noted by Mr. Stone that the committee during the site visit was focused on excavation and not any alternative uses for the property but the committee should keep in mind that not everyone was in favor of this use. The committee then turned to discussion of reclamation, with the agreement that the area along the Anderson property boundary should be addressed first. The town is committed to clearing out the debris, and returning slopes to 3:1 ratio, and treating with loam and seed. White pine and hemlock will grow on their own.
The committee also noted that the priority, given that the town voted to continue accessing gravel for town road use, should be managing the existing and future operations to mitigate concerns of the neighbors. Kathy Scott reminded attendees that the town pit has operated since 1963. It was also noted that the noise will diminish as excavation moves further away from the Andersons’ property, and that this was where material was excavated because, until the O’Neil pit was purchased, this was all that was available. In the future the highway crew will be hundreds of feet further away, with reclamation occurring where the work is complete. They will not return to this area once it’s reclaimed. Mike Davidson pointed to the Road Agent’s annual road material requirements and the reality of how much money is available to work each year. There is not enough to solve all the needs immediately. Mr. Davidson also suggested putting markers at the 10’ and 50’ buffers and it was confirmed this would be done. It was also confirmed that good quality material exists to at least 15’ and that, under AOT requirements, the state reviews operations every five years.
Continuing on the topic of visual and noise barriers, the committee stated that the slope bordering the Harris Center property also will be addressed and that the materials to do this are in place. The committee will obtain estimates to plant additional trees along the boundaries.
Taking questions from the public, the committee confirmed the O’Neil’s responsibility for reclamation was relieved with the sale of the property. Asking the cost that the town would thus bear, the Select Board did not estimate this specifically but did not believe it to be significant given the limited amount of the O’Neil operation and that the amount was subsumed in the purchase price.
Ned Hulbert expressed appreciation for the site visit but encouraged the committee, in making its recommendations to the Select Board, to recommend continuing work from west to east and northeast, and further away from the Nearys and Andersons, for noise and visual mitigation.
Lisa Anderson asked for a description of what was discussed at the site visit in terms of locations. Don Scott used the cursor on the projection screen to delineate the site visit walk and to review and describe specifically where reclamation would be recommended to be done along their boundary. Mr. Scott also described where slopes will be broadened, loamed and seeded and trees will be planted. Mr. Scott noted another possible recommendation is to berm the area near the Anderson’s well. Ms. Anderson then asked if the committee consulted on noise and whether or not a 20’ foot berm would be built? Mr. Scott doesn’t think this would mitigate noise, but moreso believes noise relates more to hours of operation and location of heavy mechanical operation. Wes Tarr noted creating such a berm would create a lot more noise. Trees will add screening and help with dust. Ms. Anderson reiterated that noise is a huge issue, especially as this relates to quality of life. She was not hearing much effort to help mitigate this issue. As a taxpayer and good citizen, she finds this intensely disturbing. She also described the effect on her and her neighbor’s day to day experience with the noise and requested a noise sample; e.g., the running of the sifter.
It was confirmed by the Road Agent that, had the new parcel not be purchased, excavation would continue to occur in the original town pit bordering the Anderson property.
Working list for committee
With no additional questions or discussion, Mr. Stone noted the committee would create its working list of recommendations based on the work to date. He stated that part of this would be consideration of potential other uses of the parcel. In the next meeting, the committee will fine-tune these recommendations to prepare its findings for the Select Board. Mr. Stone noted he hoped the final recommendations would be agreeable to all – the committee, the board, and the neighbors.
Kathy Scott reiterated that the next meeting is June 2ndat 4:00 pm and the tentative date of the public hearing is June 11th. Ryan Stone noted current use is excavation and this is the town’s goal. The challenge of the committee is to address desires for other uses. Noise, dust and visual mitigation need to be addressed. Regarding communication, he wondered if there was another method in addition to the meeting minutes, the website, the public meetings and the available files. He also reiterated that the committee’s focus is the O’Neil gravel pit.
In turning to uses, he asked if there were other potential opportunities, now or later, which the committee should be considering. He includes all sand and gravel activities and reclamation. Kathy Scott explained that the Select Board doesn’t see that this is the charge of the committee and that it was very clear in the writing of the Warrant Article as well as the presentation made at Town Meeting. Once the work was complete, then alternate uses would be available and considered.
In response to a question about the detailed survey, Mr. Scott stated it is expected to take approximately 3 weeks and would include both parcels. It will detail tree lines, infiltration beds, buffer lines, etc. The Select Board would determine when to have this done based on timing of applying for the AOT. Ms. Scott noted the board wants the committee to do its work first. The goal would be this summer. Mr. Davidson hopes to satisfy the abutters by being able to offer this detail. Though by state regulations, the town could proceed with operations, the committee, because of the language in the Warrant Article, needs to present its findings to the Select Board before operations can commence in the new pit. The anticipated timeline for this is the fall.
An alternate idea of working west to east, as proposed by Mr. Hulbert, could be to progress from the other direction, from furthest away. The committee will consider this. Mr. Neary noted he hasn’t ever heard the sifter. Ms. Anderson acknowledged that she hasn’t heard it as much, but she asked to return to the Warrant Article, stating that a long discussion occurred at Town Meeting about whether excavation should get that close to houses. She stated that Andrea Hodson responded to a resident’s question that alternate uses were possible with the purchase of the pit. Kathy Scott stated she did not recall that happening or reading this in the minutes. Ms. Scott offered another resident’s comments about the specific purpose being for gravel excavation. Mr. Anderson also believes alternate uses were also supposed to be a charge of the committee based. Kathy Scott reiterated she doesn’t believe the Select Board sees it that way or the committee. She reread the Warrant Article. There was a difference of opinion about the language of the amendment and what voters understood they were voting on.
She noted that if a private owner purchased the land and wanted to excavate, they probably would have to go through the AOT process; if for another use, then whatever appropriate regulatory process would be involved. Ryan Stone commented that he understood how the language could be interpreted the way the Andersons described. He acknowledged the uses are excavation now, but also future uses, and the committee should consider these.
Max Boyd stated his interpretation of the Warrant Article and the vote was, if the parcel failed as a gravel pit, then other uses would be considered. He believes the committee is doing what the town charged it to do. Mr. Boyd added the importance of not micromanaging the Road Agent to the point where he can’t do his work, as we are so lucky to have him. Connie Boyd added that once it’s no longer a gravel pit, can’t it become a recreational facility for the town. The committee agreed absolutely this was an option. Melody Moschan requested that people not talk over each other as this is difficult with zoom meetings. She also stated that, whatever the committee considers, she hopes the neighbors have a say.
Mr. Stone requested that the committee consider everything that was discussed, with the goal of preparing the report. This includes: current and future uses; conditions of use, including – a survey , AOT, excavation methods, staging areas, sound and dust mitigation, and reclamation plan and timetable. For the future, the committee could address trailhead parking, possible property resale or recreational use of the area. He believes this list could be expanded upon. Don Scott offered to prepare a visual document that could support the committee’s recommendations.
The meeting adjourned at 6:30 pm.