The more than 30 residents who showed up to Town Hall Nov. 17 to learn more about a proposed 5-acre gravel pit voiced surprise and dismay when Planning Board Chairwoman Eileen Skarka informed them the public hearing for this project had already passed.

"The public has no right to speak," she said. Board members said the public could stay and watch the Planning Board meeting, but could not ask questions or make comments.

The Planning Board is now on its third month of considering the proposal of Curtis Adolphsen of Union to extract gravel from an old pit at 532 St. George Road on property owned by Jean Young and her son, Max Young. Residents have expressed concerns since September that the project may include blasting and create problems with dust, increased truck traffic, noise and reduce neighboring property values.

"I just wanted to make that clear that this is not another hearing," Skarka said. "We're not going to have hearing after hearing after hearing."

"Why shouldn't it be?" asked a woman from the audience. "We all live here; we're all neighbors."

"…You don't seem to understand, the public hearing is over," Skarka said. Planning Board members said the local press gave the impression it was to be a public hearing and argued the public should not go by what they read in a letter in the newspaper. "As taxpayers, it's your responsibility to find out what's going on," Skarka said.

John Clark, who is married to a member of the Young family, argued the Planning Board has already heard ad nauseam the comments of people who are opposed to the gravel pit project. He argued this was the Planning Board's meeting.

Over the course of the meeting, however, the Planning Board took several questions and statements from members of the public.

Adolphsen is seeking a special exception to allow the gravel pit operation and the Planning Board has been working to determine what restrictions in terms of hours of operation, number of truckloads and the like to impose on the project.

The Planning Board asked Adolphsen if he had come prepared to provide more details about his plan, saying he had been sent a letter requesting more information.

Adolphsen questioned whether he had received the letter and said he would rather the Planning Board ask him questions and he could try to answer them.

"We were hoping you would be as specific as possible. You've been very vague," Planning Board member Cathy Lawrence said.

The board discussed the number of truck trips that might take place per day from the gravel pit. There was discussion of limiting it to three to five per day, then eight to nine. Adolphsen said it might be as many as 20 truck trips per day.

Planning Board member Ruth Rinklin said that for months they have been hearing from Adophsen, "I could do this, I could do that." She said she would support limiting him to 10 truck trips per day.

Members of the public asked why there was no detailed business plan. Skarka said the town could not require that.

Adolphsen argued detailed business plans are what the townspeople would get from a larger operator. He argued his project is "small potatoes."

The proposed hours of operation were 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.

Planning Board members asked whether the Saturday hours were needed, saying people had moved to the area for its quiet, rural character and hoped for quiet on the weekends.

Adolphsen started to give an example of needing to go down to the pit on a Saturday to pick up sand for a child's sandbox.

Members of the public jeered this example.

He turned in his seat, seeing the residents opposed to the pit and said, "Unbelievable!"

Residents shot back, "You are!"

"Does anybody here work for a living?" Adolphsen asked.

As for equipment to be used at the pit, he said he had a mini sized excavator, but might rent larger machines at times. He would not rule out blasting, though he acknowledged the Planning Board might prohibit it. He may also bring in rock-crushing equipment from time to time.

Asked if he would be limited to up to two employees, he questioned this limitation, saying there might be a time when he wanted to bring in a third employee.

It was noted at the meeting that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection visited the site and made a ruling on the pit. The project will be limited to five acres in size, which will move around the property, with each section being closed and covered before a new section is opened. Adolphsen will also be required to dig test wells to determine where the water table is and will not be allowed to dig close to the water table.

The Planning Board also announced the cars on the junkyard on the property are expected to be removed from the site by Gordon Mank by January. The site has had a permit from the town for the junkyard there.

Public access to information and to witness the work of the Planning Board became an issue several times during the meeting. At one point, the secretary who takes notes at the meetings said that in the future the Planning Board will not keep minutes from public hearings, as it did for the Sept. 29 meeting, which have been posted on the town's website.

Planning Board members said 90 percent of the abutters were notified before the public hearing, but added that notifying abutters is not required in the town's ordinances.

At the end of the meeting the Planning Board attempted to go into a closed-door executive session, without specifying the reason for it. When this was challenged, they said they were seeking to set a date for a site walk of the gravel pit property without more than 30 members of the public showing up. When this was challenged as illegal under the state's Freedom of Access Act, they quickly adjourned the meeting.

Planning Board Vice Chairman Jeff Northgraves was absent from the meeting.

Courier Publications News Director Daniel Dunkle can be reached at ddunkle@villagesoup.com or 594-4401 ext. 122.