November 8, 2013 11:37AM
By DALE P. FAULKNER
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — The president and CEO of Copar Quarries of Westerly says he made $500,000 offers to two owners of property adjacent to the quarry to try to quell a long running dispute but the neighbors refused his offer.
The CEO, Sam Cocopard, said he offered, through a third party, $500,000 to Steve Dubois for his Church Street property and $500,000 to Edward and Danielle Balbat for their Quarry Road property. “I’ll take $1 million was the message delivered to me,” Cocopard said, referring to Dubois.
Dubois said that he was offered $500,000 by Charles Sposato, who told Dubois he was making the offer on behalf of Copar. State records indicate Sposato is a principal in James Romanella & Sons Inc., a Westerly-based company.
Cocopard said the offer was made through a prominent Westerly resident who was formerly involved in the quarry business but declined to reveal the individual’s name.
Dubois said Cocopard’s offer was not enough to replace the life he has with his family in Bradford. “I didn’t build everything I have here to move away now. What I have here is worth more to me than $500,000. Besides, they don’t belong here. Why should I move?” Dubois said.
“In my opinion my home doesn’t have a monetary value. I’m a man of character and integrity,” Dubois said, noting that some of his friends and other neighbors had not received offers from Cocopard. “It’s all or none.”
Danielle Balbat strongly denied having been offered $500,000. She said Copar’s representatives discussed the possibility of buying her family’s property with her lawyer, Michael Lynch, but the company never responded after Lynch made an offer.
“We’ve never been offered a dime outright. I wouldn’t be living here exposing my children to the health hazards I believe exist here,” Balbat said.
The Balbats and others who live near the quarry say that stone dust drifts onto their property. They also complain of noise, and problems caused by blasting.
If Cocopard made what she called a fair offer that reflected the cost of the house before the recession, Balbat said her family would take it rather than continuing to endure noise and mounting legal bills.
Danielle and her husband, Edward Balbat, are suing Copar, Westerly Granite Co. Inc., and the town, claiming that the company is putting their health at risk and that the town improperly issued a zoning certificate allowing the company to operate. Steve Dubois and his wife, Cheryl are parties to the lawsuit along with Louis and Nancy Pucci.
Richard Boren, one of the lawyers representing the town in the many legal cases stemming from the Copar dispute, filed a motion in Superior Court on Oct. 25 asking a judge to enjoin and restrain Copar from preventing the town’s zoning officer and designated people from gaining access to the quarry property to investigate suspected violations.
Zoning Official Jason Parker went to the property on Oct. 25 to investigate a complaint that an explosive blast was about to occur on a section of the property that the town claims is off limits for quarry work because it is zoned for residential use. Cocopard said this week that Parker was denied access because of safety precautions in effect when Parker arrived, 40 minutes before the blast. “They wouldn’t have even let me on the property at that time if I showed up,” Cocopard said.
Interim Town Manager Michelle Buck disputed Cocopard’s explanation. “If there were legitimate safety reasons for not permitting the town on the property on Friday due to the blast, why hasn’t Copar allowed us to come onto the property Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or today? Instead we have had to file a motion with Superior Court asking the judge to order Copar to permit us to investigate complaints, which we have a right to do under the law,” Buck said.
Cocopard said a previous “unholy agreement” limiting the area on which quarry operations could occur is dissolved now that the town is unwilling to negotiate a resolution to the problems. “There is no place that I’m not supposed to be. There was an unholy agreement that I wouldn’t go certain places if they negotiated with me but that’s off, that’s done,” Cocopard said.
Buck confirmed that Cocopard recently communicated a desire to meet with her.
“Yes, it is true that Mr. Cocopard offered to meet to try to negotiate a resolution. The town’s position is that we have a strong case to present on the zoning issues, and are poised to present the same to the Zoning Board of Review starting Nov. 5. Any offers of settlement can be presented through attorneys. The town will not condone any further delay of the process and is doubtful that any satisfactory resolution can be reached,” Buck said.
Cocopard insisted that his company has done nothing wrong and said the town has not availed itself of his offer to make seismographic data documenting the blasts available for review. “They have no desire to make this go away. It’s pretty easy to do when you’re using taxpayers’ money,” he said.
Buck said she was unaware of Cocopard’s offer to make the seismographic data available and said she would inform the town’s lawyers of the offer.
The Zoning Board of Review is scheduled to resume a hearing on Copar and Westerly Granite’s appeal of cease and desist orders issued to the companies by former Zoning Officer Elizabeth Burdick in August 2012. The board is expected to consolidate the hearing with one on appeals of additional orders issued to the companies in February.
Copar is suing the town seeking $10 million in damages for conspiring against it and violating its constitutional rights.