Despite ‘private nuisance’ to neighbors, court won’t shut down business
WESTERLY – A Superior Court judge ruled Monday that Copar Quarries of Bradford can continue quarrying, as long as the company takes steps to “alter its processes” and correct the “private nuisance” the judge said Copar poses to its neighbors.
Associate Justice Brian Stern ruled that while the neighbors of the quarry who brought suit: Steven and Cheryl Dubois, Louis and Nancy Pucci, and Edward and Danielle Babat, argued convincingly that stone dust from the quarry drifts into their yards, there is not enough evidence to determine that the dust poses a health risk and thus issue a temporary injunction to shut down the facility.
The judge also found that noise from the quarrying operations contributes to the “private nuisance” experienced plaintiffs in the case.
Despite the “private nuisance” the judge ruled that Copar has a right to continue quarrying and the court was unwilling to end the quarry’s business.
According to Stern, since Copar has remained within local and state limits regarding air quality and noise levels, the plaintiffs were unable to demonstrate that the quarry causes a wider “public nuisance.”
As part of Judge Stern’s ruling, Copar is required to continue adhering to a consent order agreed upon by Copar and the quarry’s neighbors in late June.
The company must also continue to retain a lawyer to serve as a special master in the case to monitor the quarry’s operations. John Deacon Jr., the special master, will continue his work and report to the judge every four months for one year.
“It seems obvious that the judge has recognized that [the quarry] is a nuisance to the Charlestown and Bradford residents,” Tom Gentz, president of Charlestown Town Council, said Wednesday. “But this is a narrow judgment that is just about the nuisance. All other matters are still to be decided.”
The Charlestown Town Council passed a resolution Jan. 28 urging the town of Westerly, the Rhode Island General Assembly, and relevant state and federal agencies to “consider immediate action, legislation and/or regulation to either stop or significantly curtail commercial quarry operations in residential areas … because residents have an operation that is causing unreasonable impact upon their lives.”
Judge Stern’s decision regarding the “private nuisance” comes 14 months after the plaintiffs’ attorney, Michael Lynch, filed suit naming Copar, Westerly Granite Co. Inc., and the town of Westerly as defendants. The long awaited decision was delayed when Copar was found in contempt of the consent order in September and by scheduling conflicts.
Lynch said Wednesday that while the judge’s decision indicated the plaintiffs had suffered a “private nuisance,” as they claimed, they “had hoped the judge was going to limit operations in their entirety.”
Lynch added that the plaintiffs also hope that a new order will be put together “to ensure the private nuisance, which includes the dust and noise, is mediated.”
Several outstanding legal issues, as Gentz eluded to, still remain to be resolved, including a claim by the plaintiffs and town officials that quarrying operations at the Church Street site had stopped for many years until 2010, when Copar began work on the property. If a cease in operations can be proved, and the quarry deemed abandoned, could mean the zoning certificate under which the quarry operates is invalid. Lawyers for Copar are attempting to prove there is a “pre-existing nonconforming use” and quarrying has occurred on the property for decades.
Debates over the notice of violation issued to Copar by former Westerly Zoning Official Elizabeth Burdick in August are also unresolved. It is also rumored that Burdick is now working as a consultant for Copar on a project in Connecticut.
Earlier this week, William DiLibero, former Charlestown town administrator and Hopkinton town manager, was appointed as interim zoning official to fill the vacancy created by Burdick’s departure last month.
The Westerly Zoning Board was scheduled to meet Wednesday, after The Chariho Times went to press, for further hearings on these issues.
Gentz said he hopes that residents of Charlestown and Bradford will finally have a chance to speak about the quarry after enduring months of waiting and public hearings.
Jeffrey Gladstone, Copar’s attorney, did not return calls for comment before deadline.