Neighbors win Round 2 in fight to shut down rock crushers

A peek into the Rock of Ages quarry in the Graniteville area of Barre Town shows the rock walls above the site where an unseen and unpermitted rock crusher has been operating. File photo by Mike Polhamus/VTDigger
A rock crusher in Graniteville can’t operate without a permit from the state, according to an opinion issued this month by the District 5 Environmental Commission.
The opinion caps a nearly six-year battle by neighbors of the crusher to have it, and another just like it nearby, turned off until the operator secures state permits. Both crushers are owned by Northeast Materials Group.
The first crusher operated without a permit for years. After the Vermont Supreme Court forced the owner to apply for a permit, the company simply turned it off and started up another crusher 3,000 feet away in Graniteville, a section of Barre Town.
That second crusher continued to operate, also without a permit, since that time. The chairwoman of the Natural Resources Board — the entity that could halt the unpermitted crusher’s continued operation — said in response to Graniteville residents’ complaints last summer that she wasn’t certain the board had authority to do anything.
The crusher ruled upon this month is on land owned by Rock of Ages, a granite company that’s pulled rock from the earth for more than a century. Northeast Materials Group leases the land and has run rock crushers on the property since 2010.
The crusher was pressed into service after the Vermont Supreme Court found last year that a separate Northeast Materials Group rock crusher would require a permit. Instead of gaining approval for the first crusher, the company simply fired up the second one, located a few thousand feet away, which lacked a permit as well.
Northeast Materials Group has fought the state’s permit efforts by arguing that the crushers are in a historic quarry that predates key state regulations.
Most industrial equipment that’s been in use since 1970 requires a permit under the state’s land use statute, Act 250. An exception is allowed in the case of equipment that’s remained substantially unchanged and in the same location since before 1970 when the law went into place.
Northeast Materials Group has argued that all of its crushers don’t need a permit because rock crushing occurred on the same tract of land since before 1970.
But just because a company has operated a rock crusher in the past within the 1,200-acre quarry doesn’t mean Northeast Materials Group or any other company may necessarily operate a crusher today anywhere in the quarry, courts have said.
A yearslong court battle found that the first crusher Northeast Materials Group installed in the quarry would require a permit, but the District 5 Environmental Commission this summer refused to issue one.
That crusher, which had already operated between 2010 and 2016, produces too much noise and carcinogenic dust for the state to permit it, District 5 Environmental Commission members said in their June 14 order.
“No reasonable person should be subjected to the excessive amount of granite dust that the crushing operation generates,” commission members wrote. The sound from the crushers is loud enough that commissioners described it as “shocking and offensive.”
The second crusher had already been put into operation when the District 5 Environmental Commission in June released that opinion.
Authorities said at the time that it wasn’t clear who was supposed to decide whether the second crusher needed a permit. Natural Resources Board Chairwoman Diane Snelling urged neighbors of the quarry to seek an order called a jurisdictional opinion from the District 5 Environmental Commission.
Neighbors of the quarry objected, because it was a previous jurisdictional opinion on the first rock crusher that initiated years of litigation leading to the ruling that the first crusher would need a permit.
Quarry neighbors worried they’d need several more years to reach the same verdict on the second crusher.
District Coordinator Susan Baird issued her decision on the second crusher at the beginning of this month and found that the second crusher needs a permit as well.
A rock crusher has operated sporadically on the property for some time, but the current operation is substantially different from what was in place before Act 250 was adopted in 1970, Baird wrote. The crusher also has the potential for significant adverse impacts to neighboring residents, she wrote.
These two conditions mean the Northeast Materials Group rock crushers aren’t eligible for the exemptions from Act 250 allowed to historic operations; historic operations must get an Act 250 permit once they’re substantially altered from what was operating before 1970.
Northeast Materials Group may still crush rock at the site, but the company will need an Act 250 permit first, according to the jurisdictional opinion.
An Act 250 permit could impose some conditions restricting how much noise, pollution or traffic the operation may produce.
The Rock of Ages quarry has been in operation since the 1800s.
Northeast Materials Group representatives did not return requests for comment.
Read the story on VTDigger here: Neighbors win Round 2 in fight to shut down rock crushers.