CLARENDON - A Vermont Environmental Court judge has ruled that J.P. Carrara and Sons can expand its quarry on Route 103, use more frequent and powerful explosives, dig deeper into the ground and increase truck traffic to and from the site, despite years of complaints from neighbors and concerns about the quarry's impact on groundwater.
In an Act 250 ruling late last month, Judge Thomas Durkin acknowledged that neighbors of the 59-acre dolomite quarry, many of whom live in the Carrara-owned Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park, have experienced "tremendous strains" due, in part, to the quarry's years of blasting.
But despite, in his words, "the neighbors' additional anguish upon learning that the explosives Carrara planned to use in its future operations may be many times more than any previously used," Durkin ruled that expanding the quarry "will not have an unduly harmful impact upon the nearby areas and neighbors."
The judge extended the quarry's operating permit for another 15 years, and granted its owners permission to deepen it by another 105 feet, to 175 feet below ground level. He also vacated conditions imposed earlier on the quarry by the Act 250 District Commission, including a requirement that the Carraras improve living conditions in their trailer park and prevent further damage from the blasting.
An attorney for J.P. Carrara and Sons could not be reached for comment. However, the Rutland Herald reported that the quarry, which has been closed for at least a year, will re-open in the spring. Neighbors, who were clearly dismayed by the ruling, said they intend to appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court.
"This just proves that the little people don't matter. It's all about big business," said quarry neighbor Tom Bizon. "It seems that nobody cares about the average Vermonter."
Annette Smith is executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE), a nonprofit environmental group that's been helping residents of Whispering Pines for years in their legal fight with the Carraras. According to court documents filed in this case by VCE last spring, J.P. Carrara and Sons has a history of ignoring state environmental regulations to date back to the mid-1980s.
"The court refused to consider Carrara's 20 years of flouting the law and existing permit conditions and the intolerable living conditions Carrara has created for the neighbors of the quarry, including his own tenants," Smith said after the ruling. Among other problems, she added, the judge ignored "credible scientific evidence" that the quarry is lowering the water table in surrounding wetlands and is having a negative impact on neighbors' water supplies.
As Seven Days reported in its October 25 cover story ["Home Alone: Why has everyone abandoned the residents of Whispering Pines trailer park?"] residents of the park have been complaining for years about problems they believe are caused by the quarry's operations, including damaged trailers, water pipes and septic lines.
Residents have also expressed concern that the blasting is doing further harm to the park's already compromised groundwater supply. In 1990, leaking underground storage tanks were discovered at a nearby auto dealership and general store; as a result, the aquifer has been contaminated with the petroleum additive MTBE. Since then, residents have been using state-funded bottled water for drinking and cooking, but they still complain of sediment and foul odors in the tap water they use for cleaning and bathing.
Five of the nine Whispering Pines tenants have been withholding their rent since August 2005 to protest the park's living conditions. Among them is Sandi Shum, a disabled former machinist from Rutland who's been living there since 1995. Shortly after the ruling, Shum said this case gave the Carraras "a better understanding about the impacts their quarry operations have been having on the neighborhood for 16 years." She also expressed hope that they would "do a better job of community relations." Two weeks after the ruling, Shum received an eviction notice.
According to VCE Director Smith, "some funding" has been secured for an appeal. She also believes an automatic stay provision should keep the quarry from operating until the Supreme Court rules on the case. But according to the Herald, the Carraras' attorney disagrees.
"Vermonters have been handed an alarming lesson by this decision," Smith added. "This is a neighborhood in crisis, with too many serious and unexplained health problems. Allowing this quarry to expand is like pouring salt in an open wound."