Proposal would expand quarry along Route 12A in Lebanon, destroy wetlands

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/26/2022 9:38:31 PM
Modified: 1/28/2022 1:21:22 PM

LEBANON — Pike Industries plans to expand its quarry at the south end of the Route 12A commercial strip to as much as five times its current size.

In the process of growing the facility from 57 acres to 250 acres, the company would completely flatten Mount Finish, also known as Finn Hill, and destroy three vernal pools — seasonal pools that provide habitat for certain plants and animals.

City officials are recommending that the proposal win approval from the state but not without some reservations.

“The scale is enormous,” said Councilor Erling Heistad, who represents the Lebanon City Council on the Conservation Commission. “It’s a long-term process of about 50 years that will bring Finn Hill down to approximately the level of Route 12A.”

Pike already has the “alteration of terrain” permit from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services that it needs to mine the bedrock in Mount Finish for crushed stone. But NHDES also requires a “dredge and fill” application because Pike Industries’ expansion would wipe out about 2½ acres of wetlands. The project would proceed over the course of decades with its progress depending on factors such as market prices and demand.

To mitigate the hefty environmental impact that the growing quarry will have on wetlands, Pike Industries has proposed a one-time payment of just over $1.3 million to the state’s Aquatic Resource Mitigation Fund, better known as the ARM Fund. The payment would be in lieu of a local mitigation project; the company holds that a rigorous search revealed no local preservation opportunity large enough to meet federal standards for mitigation. The city would then have to compete for grants with other municipalities in the fund’s service area, which extends south to the Massachusetts border.

City officials contend any mitigation funds for the project should remain in Lebanon.

“We are the ones that are sustaining the loss, not Keene,” Heistad said.

Expanding the quarry would destroy a trio of vernal pools, which offer breeding grounds for amphibians. Surveys in the mining area showed egg masses of spotted salamanders and wood frogs on Mount Finish.

Brendan Quigley, a wetlands scientist, presented the project and discussed the wetlands impact with the Conservation Commission for the first time in November. He works for Gove Environmental Services, the consultant that Pike Industries hired for the wetlands application. To limit the environmental impact, the company already adjusted the borders of the mining area to carve out two other wetlands near the base of Mount Finish. But three forested wetlands where eastern hemlocks and yellow birches grow and a small wet meadow are located on the ground that will be mined for bedrock.

As an alternative to the payment to the ARM fund, five potential mitigation sites in Lebanon and Hanover were evaluated, Quigley said. But vernal pools trigger federal regulations, and none of the sites met requirements, he told the commission. For example, the Army Corps of Engineers’ equation dictates that Pike Industries would need to create 11 vernal pools if it destroys three.

“The quarry is in need of those areas now,” Quigley added at the November meeting. “Preservation projects can take a lot of time.” Mining for crushed stone elsewhere would also be cost-prohibitive, in part because of the existing capital investment in facilities in Lebanon, the company argues.

The Conservation Commission recommended that NHDES approve the permit, but not without making its concerns clear.

In a list of conditions, the commissioners questioned whether a 50-foot buffer would be enough to protect the two wetlands carved out of the project area. They also requested that the agency consider how the project could impact a city-owned conservation area with its own vernal pool adjacent to the quarry, as well as a wider network of “high-value wetlands,” including the Trues Brook and Martin Brook wetlands. The commissioners also asked that a DES staff member visit the site, as they had not been allowed on the property.

“We have not been allowed on this site to actually see it ourselves,” Heistad said.

That leaves some questions unanswered — like how much the wetlands on Mount Finish drain into Trues Brook.

And rain that settles into vernal pools can also feed aquifers, and so their destruction on Mount Finish could have environmental effects far beyond the quarry, Heistad added.

“The concern there is what is going to happen to water on neighboring properties,” he said. “Where does the water flow?”

Or as Riley, the Conservation Commission’s vice chairman, described it to the City Council, turning a mountain into a basin may have a dramatic effect on the surrounding hydrology.

The commissioners also have their eyes on what the quarry will look like after Pike Industries concludes its operations. The company plans to leave the mountain level with 12A on the west side of the mining area. The 400-foot mountain will become a level plateau, tapering off into a terraced cliff on its western boundary.

The commissioners suggested that the land could become valuable wildlife wetland habitat and raised concerns about how steep terracing may inhibit wildlife passage.

They also asked that Pike Industries look further for local mitigation opportunities instead of paying into the ARM fund.

Still, the Conservation Commission recommended that NHDES approve the permit.

“It was made clear that of course if NHDES denies the permit, they could leave these wetlands and excavate everything around them,” Riley said. “Imagine a vernal pool perched on top of a skyscraper isolated from anything.”

Wildlife would have little use for a vernal pool separated from forest habitats, she explained.

Crushed stone is also an important regional resource, she added.

In its application, Pike Industries argues that a local source of crushed stone brings down construction costs. Crushed stone is such a heavy product that long-distance trucking is cost-prohibitive. None of Pike Industries’ other facilities in the region are viable sources of crushed stone.

Instead of approving Pike Industries’ application, NHDES issued a “request for more information” on Jan. 24.

The company has until March 25 to meet the agency’s requests although it may request an extension, wrote NHDES wetlands specialist Tyler Davidson in a letter addressed to the company.

Davidson asked for a more exact timeline for the mining as well as documentation to prove that it is too cost-prohibitive to mine for bedrock elsewhere.

Reflecting the Conservation Commission’s concerns, Pike Industries will also have to show how the project will impact groundwater and the aquifer level in Lebanon, as well as how the terracing on the quarry after it is closed will impact wildlife.

And Pike Industries may have to look harder for a local mitigation option. Referencing the Conservation Commission’s statement, Davidson also asked that Pike Industries reexamine options for a local mitigation project especially because the commission was not “directly involved” in the company’s first search.

After Pike Industries fulfills NHDES’ request, there may be a public hearing, but that is “dependent upon the information that NHDES receives back from the applicant,” NHDES spokesperson Jim Martin said.

The Conservation Commission has also asked that any public hearing will be held locally, not in Concord.

“The long view (is) to have the best environment we can hope to nurture into bening 50 years from now,” Heistad said. “Local input is always preferable.”

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at cpotter@vnews.com or 603-727- 3242.




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