Voices were raised and emotions ran high March 8 as members of the Planning Board defended their decision to approve a gravel pit at 532 St. George Road.

The heated exchange between Jeff Northgraves of the Planning Board and a member of the public opposed to the pit came during the first meeting on an appeal filed to the town's Board of Appeals.

Northgraves argued the Planning Board did an outstanding job of taking everyone's concerns into consideration as it decided on the gravel pit. He said the town ordinance does not require the board to hold a public hearing on a special exception permit such as this one, but they held it anyway, bending over backwards to allow public comment. However, he also acknowledged he had said it would have been a constitutional travesty to deny this use.

Resident Loretta Bailey spoke out, saying he was lying and added, "I'll bet you even voted for Trump!"

Northgraves pointed to this as an example of the opposition the Planning Board has faced from neighbors.

The meeting had begun with residents Paul and Kearny Neagle representing a group called the "aggrieved residents of South Thomaston," which filed an appeal Feb. 7 of the Planning Board's approval of the project.

Curtis Adolphsen of Union once again represented the gravel pit project. Adolphsen has a construction business and plans to do the work on property owned by the Young family. The application for the special exception was originally filed by Maxwell Young, and it was approved by the Planning Board Jan. 12.

John Hansen of the Appeals Board ran the meeting with help from the board's attorney, Kristin Collins, of Preti Flaherty in Augusta.

The Neagles outlined numerous complaints about the project and the Planning Board's process. They said members of the Planning Board were biased in favor of the project and had a conflict of interest because the late Roger Young, who was Maxwell Young's father, had served on the Planning Board for years before his death.

Paul Neagle said he made a formal request to the town in January for all public documents related to the gravel pit project, but did not receive the minutes from the Sept. 29 Planning Board hearing and copies of letters from residents concerned about the project until the day before the appeals board meeting. He called that "scandalous."

Hansen said he had asked the Town Office for the minutes from the meeting and the letters and no one seemed to know where they were. He said his pushing for the documents resulted in their surfacing the day before the meeting and said they "fell through the cracks."

Neagle argued it was a case of either deception or blatant incompetence.

He and his wife argued that the public hearing, held Sept. 29, was closed before details of the project had emerged. Kearny Neagle said the Planning Board had to drag information out of the applicant and fill in the spaces for him.

Adolphsen said he was willing to answer the questions of the Planning Board, but he made it clear he was not going to volunteer to put limits on his business himself. He said it was up to the Planning Board to impose those limits.

The original application for the project includes little more than the name of the owner, the address and a not-to-scale map. The Planning Board did eventually set limits on the project, including hours of operation, numbers of truck trips per day and a prohibition on spreading dust off the property.

"I hope the dust behaves," Kearny Neagle said.

She also noted that the Planning Board never visited or walked the property, opting to use Google maps instead.

One complaint that they stressed was that the Planning Board rejected a study they submitted showing that gravel pits reduce neighboring property values. The board had argued that the study was not done in South Thomaston and that other major gravel pits, including Dragon Cement, were already located close to the properties.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Neagles argued that Dianne Darling should recuse herself from serving on the Appeals Board, saying that though she lived near the proposed gravel pit, she refused to sign a petition circulated by neighbors opposed to it.

The attorney for the board asked if the aggrieved appellants wanted the meeting to be postponed, since without Darling, the board would not have a quorum. The neighbors agreed to continue with the meeting with Darling serving.

Adolphsen dismissed the claims that the Planning Board had been biased as innuendo and speculation.

Eileen Skarka of the Planning Board said the accusation of bias "is an insult."

The appeals board did not issue a decision. It will hold further meetings March 15 and March 22.

Daniel Dunkle can be reached at ddunkle@villagesoup.com or 594-4401 ext. 122. Follow him on Twitter @DanDunkle.