2012-05-30 / Front Page

Industrial noise upsetting residents

New Portland
By Karen Bessey Pease Special to the Irregular

NEW PORTLAND — When choosing to live in a quiet western Maine town, residents expect exactly that: peace and quiet. At the regularly scheduled New Portland Selectmen’s meeting on Monday, May 21, however, it was excessive industrial noise that was the main topic of conversation.

Dr. Jean Antonucci addressed the board regarding complaints she and other residents have registered pertaining to the extreme noise emissions produced at the Enviromat mill in West New Portland.

Last year, Global Environmental Systems Inc. of Portland set up shop at the former Brochu Partners Inc. property at 57 Lemon Stream Road; known locally to many as Maple Lane Farm. Spurred by the construction of CMP’s 350-mile long Maine Power Reliability Project, Enviromat fills a need by fabricating environmental timber matting systems. The company has created a local market for lower quality hardwood logs.

At the New Portland site, these logs are trucked in and off-loaded, then slabbed to create timbers which are cut to 16-foot lengths and bolted together, creating four-foot-wide “mats” which can be easily transported to construction sites and laid in tandem to form solid, natural surfaces which protect the earth underneath.

Noise complaints first began to surface on the town’s Facebook page at 3:10 a.m. on March 9. Many locals in the West Village were kept awake all night long by a “loud grinding noise” that some said rattled their windows. It was soon determined that the noise was coming from the large chipper at the mill, which sits on the west side of Route 27 between the Chick Road and the Cole Grove Road.

At a time when the local economy is lagging, having a new business in town would seem to be a positive thing, but some people have strong reservations about whether such intrusive industrial noises are suitable in a rural community where families with children, pets and livestock live in close proximity to the site.

After residents complained to the town and the company was contacted, the mill’s manager and foreman, Joe and Steve Smith attended a subsequent selectmen’s meeting, where they apologized and assured townspeople that they would no longer do the chipping at night. It was agreed that in the future, they would notify the town well in advance when chipping was going to occur, also stating that they most likely would not need to do so again until June or July.

However, after notifying the town office of their plans on Monday, May 14, chipping began again on Wednesday, May 16. According to Dr. Antonucci, the fact that it was past dawn didn’t alleviate the aggravation and annoyance.

“At 5:30 a.m. on May 18, my husband and I were awakened from a sound sleep by this. It’s enormously upsetting. The noise is intolerable.”

Dr. Antonucci recounted a call she made to Global Engineering’s Portland office to discuss the issue. She stated that the office manager refused to transfer her to the owners, telling her to “talk to the town.” During another conversation, the office manager hung up on her.

“To many of us, this is horrible. Nobody’s ever come to us and said ‘this is what’s moving into town and this is what will happen.’ A lot of us are terrifically disturbed.”

When town manager Stacie Rundlett questioned Enviromat about moving up its timetable from June or July to May, she was informed that the company was “doing some construction and needed to make room.” According to Rundlett, the mill employee went on to say that “OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) doesn’t like it when there is stuff stockpiled.”

Contacted by phone, Enviromat foreman Steve Smith agreed and also pointed out the fire danger to the area. Any time there are large piles of wood debris left lying around for an extended period, the danger of a fire increases.

On Monday night, one resident asked why the chipping couldn’t be done off-site, but the enormity of the amount needing to be chipped and the fact that some chips are used on-site as fuel makes that solution less viable for the company. There is also a market for the excess chips. Smith commented that it wouldn’t be economically feasible to load the wood, pay to have it hauled and then offloaded again before being processed.

Selectmen had requested that Enviromat complete sound meter testing the next time they chipped. According to Code Enforcement Officer Bob Dunphy, a report of the decibel level is not forthcoming at this time. The town was informed that the meter used was not the proper one to measure for the type of noises produced by the chipping.

Concern was raised that there is a conflict of interest if the company does its own testing, but Dunphy said that it is up to the company to comply with state sound regulations, and it’s their responsibility to measure the noise levels, not the town’s. The town’s job is to enforce New Portland’s Site Review Ordinance.

According to Dunphy, the first, quieter chipper used by the mill “was a 750 Cummins. This one is 1,000… If it’s within limits, there’s nothing we can do. If it’s above, we can do something.”

After further discussion of the issue and what options were open to the town, the board moved to instruct CEO Dunphy to issue a “Cease and Desist” notice for chipping at the mill until an independent, licensed acoustics engineer can be scheduled to perform sound readings at the site. If non-compliance is confirmed, further action will be taken.

As board member Andrea Reichert said, “It’s a first step.”

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