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Mining Proposal Raises Concerns About Orono Bog
09/17/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

As public debate continues over new state mining regulations, there's also growing contoversy about a local quarrying proposal in the town of Orono. A construction company has applied for a 30-year lease to mine slate at a site off of Kelly Road. But the quarry holding the minerals is just three-quarters of a mile north of the Orono Bog and the popular boardwalk that runs through it. As Jay Field reports, nearby residents worry all the blasting and stone crushing would damage the bog's ecosystem and disrupt its solitude and sense of place.

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Orono Bog

The bog (right) is a Registered National Landmark. There's a plaque attached to a boulder, a short distance from the boardwalk. "This site," it reads, "possesses exceptional value as an illustration of the nation's natural heritage and contributes to a better understanding of man's environment."

"It's about a mile-and-a-half, if you start, actually, at the city forest trail head and walk the entire loop," says Jason Stoner, whose property abuts the bog. Stoner runs or walks this loop several times a week.

Stoner is with the Kelley Hill Neigborhood Working Group. We're standing at the southern entrance to the boardwalk.

Jay Field: "Pretty much immediately you get into cinnamon ferns, red and swamp maples."

Jason Stoner: "A gorgeous site, a respite for the community. I would challenge anybody to take a walk on the bog and look to the north and imagine the sound of a quarry."

The quarry site sits on property owned by Orono resident Perry LaPoint, who has signed an agreement to lease the land to Thornton Construction for 30 years. Officials with the Milford-based company did not return calls for comment by airtime, and no one picked up at a number listed in the White Pages for Perry LaPoint.

In it's application to Orono's Planning Board, the company proposes using a 1.4-acre area to extract, store and crush slate from the quarry.

"This is an allowed use. It is an allowed use," says Orono Town Manager Evan Reichert. And it has been for years, Reichert says. But at a public hearing in July, Reichert said the planning board asked Thornton to prepare additional studies on the potential impacts of the project.

"They include things like noise studies, traffic analyses - studies that would respond to concerns that were raised, which include impacts on the neighborhood and environment," Reichert says.

It's this last area that has project opponents especially worried. Jim Bird, a science librarian at the University of Maine, has been the director of the Orono Bog Boardwalk since 2008. Bird declined to talk on tape, but he did forward written testimony he submitted to the planning board in early August.

"The Orono Bog," Bird writes, "is home to a wide variety of plants and animals, many of them unique to ombrotrophic bogs and therefore highly sensitive to inputs from the atmosphere."

"We would rather see the quarry permit denied, at least long enough for there to be appropriate research done on the impact it might have on the environment and the bog itself," Jason Stoner says.

Stoner also wants to see the Orono Town Council impose a 180-day moratorium on mineral extraction permits. The council declind to do so earlier this month. Stoner says a moratorium would allow time for more study of the project's potential impacts. It would also pave the way for a formal town vote next spring on the zoning rule that allows for mining in the area.

The next public hearing before the Orono planning board is scheduled to take place on Oct. 16.


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