At Monday night’s town council meeting the room was packed with residents there to discuss dust problems with Department of Environmental Management (DEM) officials.
The dust problems, which residents say come off of the Centre of New England property, are in the area of Johnson’s Boulevard to Jade Road and Arnold Road to Lydia Road.
The reported “gravel operation” being conducted on the Centre of New England property by developer Nicholas Cambio is “grandfathered in” according to town planner Paul Sprague.
Sprague called it a “pre-existing non-conforming use” granted in 1964.
Questions about the required 50 foot natural buffer between residents’ properties and the operation were also discussed.
Residents said the buffer had been reduced down to no more than 15 or 20 feet in some areas.
Town council president Gary Cote said that he and vice president Kerry McGee had seen the dust firsthand as well as the reduced size of the buffer.
There on behalf of DEM was David Choppy of the Office of Compliance and Inspection.
Choppy explained that no person is allowed to conduct activity on their property that causes dust to migrate to an adjacent property.
However, proving that is difficult.
First, it must be proven that the dust is indeed migrating and second, that it is caused by some “activity” on that property.
Residents claim that it is indeed activity on the property that causes the dust to migrate into their yards and even into their homes, they say.
While residents were frustrated at the lack of investigators available at DEM to look into their complaints, most residents extended gratitude to Choppy and his staff.
Choppy only had a handful of complaints documented with DEM. Two were in 2008, one was in 2009 and six were in 2010.
Residents were encouraged to contact the DEM every time any activity is in progress that causes the dust to migrate.
McGee suggested residents call on a daily basis.
Choppy said this would allow them to create a log that may indicate to them the best time to send an investigator.
The dirt bike and other recreational riders who stir up the dust on the land that has been mostly cleared by Cambio also came up.
Choppy said, however, that those individuals would not be cited if they are caught stirring up the dust because they are there illegally.
New police chief Capt. Bryan Volpe, as well as outgoing police chief Col. Ronald DaSilva, both said that while they do have a special vehicle to patrol the area they are not going to chase down riders.
Numerous residents testified, many mentioning the close proximity of Hopkins Hill School to the “dust bowl.”
“We need somebody to think about the kids,” one resident said.
One woman presented photographs to the council of dust event resting on top of a recent snowfall at her home.
Another resident said that he cannot open the windows in the back of his home or have people over in his yard, due to the dust being stirred up by work that he says begins at 6:30 a.m.
Jeff Hakanson, the president of the Tiogue Lake Association, suggested that the property be covered with a type of dirt or wild seed until Cambio determines how it will be developed.
Hakanson and others did say that they are not opposed to the Centre of New England development.
One man said dust was even coming in through the ridge vent in his garage and that in the summer the dust can make it look “like the woods are on fire.”
Hakanson suggested that photos be taken by town officials.
Choppy said that if videos are taken by someone official, such as a DEM representative or someone with similar expertise, they are more likely to be accepted by the department.