SOMESVILLE, Oct. 14, 2020 – Cyrus J. Hall needed a post office in the little hamlet on the western side of Somes Sound to help sustain his quarry business and in 1892 the post office was built. But it needed a name and thus, according to historian Henry Raup, Hall Quarry came to being.
“Founded in 1870 by Cyrus Hall, the quarry provided granite for some of this country’s national landmarks: the Congressional Library in Washington, D.C., the United States Mint in Philadelphia,” Raup wrote.
The post office closed in 1967. But the name lives on.
Only a few denizens of the Quietside may be able to recite this slice of history, but many are familiar with the NIMBY row that has become the most contentious one on MDI since the notorious lawsuit by billionaire Mitchell Rales against his noisy party-happy neighbors in Northeast Harbor five years ago. That suit was settled in 2016.
Today’s combatants are the mining company Harold MacQuinn Inc., the lessee Freshwater Stone company, which wants to resurrect a stone-cutting operation, against neighbors who oppose the operation and the noise and truck traffic which would come with it.
Across Frenchman’s Bay, Carol Korty has advice for Hall Quarry residents: Organize and educate. Korty is the Erin Brockovich of Lamoine. She spearheaded the decade-long citizens effort that resulted in the Maine Supreme Court decision in May to deny MacQuinn’s application to expand its 68-acre gravel pit to 108 acres, carving out a huge chunk of Lamoine’s Cousins Hill. Bill Trotter of the Bangor Daily News wrote this comprehensive article about Lamoine’s victory.
Korty was the vessel for a grassroots battle against MacQuinn. There were citizens petitions and referenda, leafleting at the town dump, packed public hearings, ground water studies and legal challenges. She gave birth to Friends of Lamoine which has a robust website http://lamoine.org and hundreds of devout followers.
I was surprised by the number of stakeholders in the Hall Quarry dispute who had never heard of the MacQuinn battle over Cousins Hill in Lamoine. It was similar to what unraveled in Hall Quarry. That made me wonder if the decentralized approach in Hall Quarry is the right strategy.
Carol Korty told me she attended one of the Mount Desert planning board hearings regarding Hall Quarry out of curiosity and was surprised at how the parties were so “disorganized.”
The Lamoine case had a similar trajectory. There was a controversial planning board decision to deny MacQuinn the application to expand in 2014. That was followed by an appeals board decision overturning the planning board. Then that was struck down by a state court. Finally, the issue was decided by the state Supreme Court which sided with the lower court denying the application.
In the Hall Quarry case, the planning board first rejected the company’s claim that its proposed use was “grandfathered.” MacQuinn appealed and the Superior Court surrogate, the Maine Business & Consumer Court, ruled against the planning board’s “grandfather” rejection and threw it back for more consideration.
The planning board then decided to focus on the main areas of contention: noise, and buffering and screening.
Mechanical saws piercing a piece of granite emit a high-pitch screech that can carry for miles, well beyond the immediate neighborhood of Hall Quarry.
When the wind is in a prevailing southwesterly blow, that screech can easily carry across the water of Somes Sound and reach the shores of Sargent Point, where Hans Utsch, ensconced in his resplendent waterfront manse, has to repeat himself while on his cell phone managing his investments because no one can hear him. His neighbor Larry Goldfarb has attended planning board hearings to protest against the application as well.
Goldfarb said at a hearing last year the resumption of quarrying would affect virtually everyone in Mount Desert in some way.
“Obviously, the value of properties in Hall Quarry is going to go down,” he was quoted in the Mount Desert Islander. “That is ultimately going to result in tax assessments going down, which will result in tax revenue going down. And the gap is going to be made up by everybody who is not in the sound wave of the quarry; their taxes are going to go up.”
Utsch is the latest among the aggrieved parties to have hired a lawyer. He is also one of the wealthiest residents of MDI. His deep pockets ensured that this battle is in for the “long haul,” as described by Matthew D. Manahan, a principal at the Portland law firm Pierce Atwood. Manahan is a heavyweight on land-use issues and argued the planning board erred on its recent decision to approve MacQuinn’s noise mitigation plan. So did Dan Pileggi and Roger Katz, attorneys who represent neighbors who don’t want their lives disrupted by screeching saws and trucks carrying the stones out.
All are waiting for the next steps. Will the planning board deny the permit despite its recent 3-2 decision favoring MacQuinn’s noise mitigation plan? What will the zoning board of appeals do when it inevitably has to deal with the case?
As already reported, there is ample appetite to take this to the “long haul.”
The good folks of Hall Quarry, along with the residents on the other side of the Sound with shared interests, made their homes on the promise of a certain quality of life.
But the town of Mount Desert is an odd collection of hamlets which do not speak to each other well, nor with any frequency. Residents of Pretty Marsh are not stakeholders in the fight for the soul of Hall Quarry. Nor was there any support from Northeast Harbor except for a handful of residents on Sargent Point.
They should all take a deep, introspective dive into the reality of the place which was settled by Abe Somes in 1761 and wonder how many ghost deeds and easements still exist so that another modern day doppleganger may rear his head and say, “Hey, I’m back” – like Freddy Krueger.
The Harold MacQuinn Company wanted to take down a mountain of gravel in Lamoine. Friends of Lamoine said no. It drew a line in the sand. And the Friends prevailed.
It remains to be seen if Mount Desert will have the same outcome.