WESTERLY — A dozen town officials boarded a school bus Friday morning for a tour of the two quarries, owned by the Cherenzia Companies, led by Cherenzia President Salvatore “Sam” E. Cherenzia III, and Thomas Liguori Jr., house counsel. They disembarked at the Town Hall a couple of hours later, impressed with the facilities, but still concerned about their effects on nearby neighborhoods, and especially, the town’s water supply.
On the road to the first quarry on Old Hopkinton Road, Councilor Caswell Cooke wanted to know how much longer the company would be able to extract stone from the site.
“Forty years,” Liguori replied.
The two quarries employ about 80 people year-round and 100 or more workers in the summer. Cherenzia said he was pleased to show the visitors around his operations.
“We’re transparent. We’ll take anybody out here,” he said.
Cooke and Kenneth Parrilla were the only two council members on the tour, which the town requested as part of its inquiry into the possible effects of quarries and other industries on the public water supply.
Also on the bus were Conservation Commission Chairman Joseph MacAndrew, Planning Board Chairman Jack Felber, planning board members Kenneth Sorensen and Carl Blume, and Westerly Municipal Land Trust Chairman James Federico.
With a moratorium on approvals for new commercial or industrial projects close to town wells or public water supplies due to expire in March, the town is preparing to draft an ordinance to replace it.
The town council voted Nov. 25 to hire GeoInsight Inc., of Littleton, Mass., to conduct a three-phase study to identify industrial and other land uses that could harm the public drinking water system. The council also decided to commission an additional study that will specifically focus on the Cherenzia Quarry on White Rock Road and its impact on the water supply.
That study will also include an examination of the town’s zoning regulations to determine whether certain permitted uses could be harmful to the water supply.
Cherenzia explained that his company purchased the 100-acre Old Hopkinton Road quarry, known as a “finishing plant,” in 1988. Rocks travel along a series of conveyor belts, passing through several machines that screen it, producing varying sizes of stone as well as sand. Two ponds on the property supply the water used to spray the stones as they are processed in order to control the dust.
When the bus took the group to the top of the quarry, the size of the facility was even more apparent.
“This is big,” Cooke said as he gazed down into the chasm, taking photographs.
Felber was also surprised by the size of the operation.
“You drive by it on the road a hundred times, and you don’t realize just how big it is, and how automated it is, the fact that the stone just flows from one source to another, sorted in size. For what they’re doing, the operation seems incredibly clean and safe, and just very interesting,” he said.
At the 140-acre White Rock Road quarry, the subject of the town’s third engineering study, Cherenzia explained that while half a million yards of rock have been extracted since the company bought the quarry in 1995, there are 25 million yards still to be taken. This quarry is located in an aquifer protection zone, and three municipal water sources are less than a mile from the facility.
When the tour ended, officials agreed that the company and its operations were impressive and that efforts to control the dust appeared to be working, but they wondered about what additional impacts the quarries might be having.
“What it comes down to, as far as noise is concerned, is that equipment placed a certain distance from the perimeter has to meet certain noise standards, and there has to be plenty of water to keep the dust down,” Blume said.
MacAndrew said the Conservation Commission was most concerned about the White Rock quarry.
“There’s blasting going on, and we’re concerned that could have an effect on the quality and quantity of the water in the three most productive wells in town,” he said. “It’s not that it’s not a well-run organization; it is well-run. It’s the unknown that we’re most concerned with.”