Quarry neighbors appeal to Westerly council for relief
Quarry neighbors appeal to Westerly council for relief
July 15, 2014 02:01PM
By DALE P. FAULKNER
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — Dust and noise continues to plague Bradford and Charlestown residents who live near the Copar quarry, some of the residents told the Town Council on Monday, repeating their requests for help and relief.
The residents also argued that a road Copar uses to access the quarry site was never approved by the town or the state and that because the road is not owned by Copar or its landlord, Westerly Granite Co Inc., it is outside the bounds of a court-approved settlement agreement between the town and the two companies. The neighbors also argue the road should not be used by Copar because it is in a residential zone. Furthermore, they claim, the road and adjacent property are improperly used by the company to park its trucks.
Richard Boren, the lawyer who represents the town in the Copar cases, has said the road is owned by Westerly Granite Co., a contention disputed by the neighbor’s lawyer, Robert Lombardo. Neither Boren nor Lombardo was present Monday.
The neighbors asked the council to put the road issue on a future agenda for further discussion, saying Lombardo had been unsuccessful in his efforts with town officials.
Councilors have expressed frustration with their inability to curtail or stop Copar’s operations, said Enoch McDonough, whose Ross Hill Road residence in Charlestown is near the quarry.
“If the council was looking for some way to help the neighbors this would be a very good tool,” McDonough said.
Town Manager Michelle Buck declined to offer an opinion on the neighbors’ position that the road could be used to shut Copar down but noted the road was cited in a notice of violation issued by Robert Craven, a lawyer who served for a time as special zoning officer in the case. “This is not new information,” Buck said.
The settlement agreement stemmed from separate sets of notices of violation issued to the companies by Craven and two other town zoning officers.
Westerly resident Charles Marsh said the status of the road came into focus following the arrest of Bradford resident Steve Dubois, who was charged with trespassing following a complaint filed by a Copar employee. The charge was eventually dismissed after the town declined to prosecute the case because the alleged trespass occurred on the access road, land not owned by Copar.
The residents pleaded with the council, saying the noise and dust generated by Copar have increased since the settlement agreement was approved by Superior Court Associate Justice Brian Stern in February.
“Don’t hide behind the agreement,” McDonough said.
Under the agreement, the companies agreed not to perform quarrying activities on a 28-acre section of the 107-acre property. Other provisions require Copar to move its operations in a southwesterly direction, continue a watering protocol designed to suppress dust, and install a system to create a barrier between the quarry and neighbors. In addition, a line of trees must be planted. Copar must also abide by town, state and federal regulations related to dust migration and noise.
Buck said the court order can be enforced by the town and alleged violations could be subject to court action. She said the town has continued to document and investigate noise complaints. Additionally, Zoning Officer Jason Parker and Building Official David Murphy inspected the quarry operation on Friday.
The inspection, according to a memorandum from Boren, found a berm, intended as a barrier to the neighbors, under construction and a noise blocking netting system under development. Additionally, the inspection revealed that operations are moving in a southerly direction.
The council remains committed to helping the neighbors, Diana Serra, council president, said. She delivered a sharp criticism of Richard Comolli, a former council president who along with his sons is a principal in Westerly Granite Co. Inc.
“There are a couple of people who are looking at [the situation]; they are laughing, probably, but it’s their gain. They know the trouble we are having, they know the problems that this town is facing and the emotions. There’s one of them who sat right here where I am sitting. They know who they have up there. They know the type of people they have up there,” Serra said.
Copar, which is now corporately known as Armetta LLC., confirmed in March that it had hired Michael Sparfven to serve as a consultant. Sparfven has served time in federal prison on fraud charges and was convicted in Rhode Island for first-degree robbery and conspiracy and remains on probation for those charges. E-mails obtained by The Sun show Sparfven identified himself as the company’s interim president earlier this month. The company has also acknowledged its controlling interest is now held by Philip Armetta, who has also served time in federal prison.
“I guess the people who own the property are not going to do anything either,” Serra said.
Councilor Patricia Douglas said she voted against the settlement agreement because it “was horribly wrong for the town.” She described observing a blast at the quarry from the home of one if its neighbors.
“I knew the blast was coming but it was so frightening and so loud the concrete floor was vibrating. You knew the blast was coming but your human instinct was to run,” Douglas said.
Douglas was also critical of the town’s noise ordinance, saying the maximum decibel level set by the ordinance is too high.
The council and town staff, Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. said, are repeatedly advised not to comment publicly because of pending litigation involving the town and the companies.
“The reason why you don’t get a straight answer is because people are scared of these lawsuits because in my opinion there’s no justice in the justice system,” Cooke said.
While he voted against the settlement agreement, Cooke said the councilors who approved the agreement looked for a way to pull the town out of a related $10 million lawsuit the companies had filed against the town. The town’s insurance company said it would not pay if the town lost the suit, Cooke said. “Then what happens to your roads? What happens to your schools?” Cooke said.
Neil Williamson, of 39 Riidam Way, Charlestown, said the Copar operation is putting Westerly’s ground water at risk. He also questioned what the company would do with the land once quarrying operations were complete and noted Armetta’s connections to the trash hauling and solid waste disposal industries. Armetta is the former owner of Dainty Rubbish, a Middletown, Conn., based company.
Buck agreed to set up a meeting with Charlestown resident Denise Rhodes to discuss her noise complaints.