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Property owner, Eastman residents dig in for fight over gravel pit plan

  • From their home in Enfield, N.H., on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, Eastman residents Wendy Wormwood and her husband Chip Haley look over maps and discuss Conkey Enterprises' plan to reopen and expand a gravel pit Art Conkey recently purchased on Bog Road. Conkey has filed a permit with Enfield's Planning Board, waiting for their approval. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Art Conkey, of Conkey Enterprises, has recently logged in the area of a former gravel pit in Enfield, N.H. Conkey is asking the Planning Board to approve a permit to reopen and expand the gravel pit he recently purchased on Bog Road. Richard Macie, of Enfield, is an abutter of the pit the photo taken from his land on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/13/2022 10:46:20 PM
Modified: 8/15/2022 9:36:55 PM

ENFIELD — Enfield and Grantham residents, many of whom live in Eastman, are organizing to stop a proposed gravel pit operation on Bog Road over concerns about its impact on the planned living community’s water supply.

“It’s literally on top of the aquifer,” Barry Cunningham, an abutter who lives in the Grantham section of Eastman, said during an Enfield Planning Board hearing about the pit proposed by Art Conkey, of Conkey Enterprises. Cunningham referenced a map from U.S. Geological Survey that shows an aquifer under the property.

Conkey, who purchased the 95-acre property in June for $175,000 from the estate of David Hastings, now is asking the Enfield Planning Board for a permit to reopen — and expand — the on-site gravel pit. If the board allows the expansion, it would total about 12 acres. In his permit application, Conkey, who has operated another pit on Bog Road for more than 25 years, indicated he would take 500 cubic yards of sand and grit from the pit in question this year.

“The rest of the land we’re leaving vacant,” Conkey said during the meeting. Since purchasing the pit in June, Conkey has been logging the property, which is located in Enfield and Grantham on the Springfield, N.H., border, but is not part of Eastman. He is in the process of trying to shut down and reclaim a separate pit that he has owned at 475 Bog Road for more than 20 years.

The Planning Board is limited in what they can deny the permit for; the state of New Hampshire is responsible for regulating water quality. According to Enfield’s local excavation regulations, the Planning Board can only deny a permit for nine reasons: three involve buffer zones, and three involve water. The state is the body that needs to make the ruling on the water, which happens during the state permit process. The board can also deny a permit if it “would be unduly hazardous or injurious to the public welfare.”

During a Wednesday meeting attended by dozens of people in person and virtually, the Planning Board declined to make a ruling on Conkey’s permit and instead asked him to compile more information and reappear at the board’s Sept. 14 meeting. New Hampshire law requires gravel pit owners to provide a reclamation plan for all gravel pits — what they will do with the property once they’ve excavated all the materials. Conkey said he would turn it into a pond but did provide a concise plan.

“If there is any sediment draining, it drains it into the pond so it does not leave the site,” Conkey said.

Among the residents’ greatest concerns is the impact on the aquifer, an underground water system that supplies water to Eastman residents, who live in Enfield, Grantham and Springfield. They also are concerned about noise and the impact on roads and wildlife in the area, said Wendy Wormwood, an Eastman resident who lives in Enfield. There also is a stream called Little Brook that runs through the property.

“If it’s contaminated, what would happen to the water?” Wormwood asked in an interview before Wednesday night’s meeting. “What happens to the aquifer if something happens?”

During the meeting, Conkey said his company has dug test pits to establish where the water table begins. According to New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ Best Management Practices for Groundwater Protection, gravel pit operators must make sure the equipment they use does not leak fuel or other liquids that can contaminate the water source or the soil. If the soil surrounding the aquifer is contaminated, the aquifer could also be damaged.

“It’s not something that’s going to be 100 trucks a day,” Conkey said. After the current year, he did not say how many yards he anticipated they would take out annually and said that in the immediate future, he would not have a crushing operation — using machinery to crush material into smaller pieces — on the property.

The noise from a potential crushing operation was among a list of concerns from Eastman residents brought up by Steve Schneider, who leads the Eastman Community Association and previously served as Enfield’s town manager.

“The truck traffic is a concern for us,” he said at the meeting, noting that the pit is in a residential area. He asked that the board prohibit trucks from the gravel pit using roads in Eastman, unless they have a specific purpose for being there. He also asked that the site not become a storage site for equipment other than what is needed to extract materials from the pit, in order to protect the aquifer from any potential spills of hazardous materials, like fuel.

“Storing of outside materials and equipment is a legitimate and fair concern of ours,” Schneider said.

He also asked that the Planning Board limit any activity at the site to “normal business hours” because it is a residential area, and if crushing eventually happens on the site, it only takes place one day a week.

“We have some real concerns about the intensity of this operation,” he said. “Our position is that it’s Mr. Conkey’s responsibility to demonstrate that the activity that he is proposing isn’t going to impact that aquifer, and we don’t have any data to support that at this moment.”

Planning Board Chairman David Fracht asked Conkey if he would agree to conditions that would limit trucks from the gravel pit using roads in Eastman and he agreed.

“As far as trucks going through Eastman, no offense, but anyone would be an idiot to go through Eastman,” Conkey said. “The roads are all sharp, they’re hilly, you got speed bumps. It’s a nightmare for a truck.”

He said he would agree to conditions that would limit working hours from Monday to Friday. Fracht also stated that if the gravel pit permit was approved, it would be subject to annual investigation by the town to make sure it was in compliance, including that excavation was taking place where the permit said it would.

Another point of consternation among residents was Conkey’s refusal to allow members of the conservation commission to come onto the land to look at wetlands and a beaver dam. Jerold Theis, chairman of the Enfield Conservation Commission, asked the Planning Board to hire someone to conduct a geological survey to see how far the aquifer goes into Conkey’s property.

Conkey responded that there was not a beaver dam on the property. “What we had, we had a clogged up culvert which we cleaned the culvert out,” he said.

Taylor confirmed that Conkey is not required to allow members of the conservation commission on his property. He added later in the meeting that he did not want anyone on his property during an active logging operation.

The gravel pits on Bog Road were established in the 1960s, said Rob Taylor, Enfield’s land use and community development administrator, as well as its zoning administrator. For a time, there were around six gravel pits; over the years that number dwindled to three. One pit, known as the Crate pit, has closed and is in the process of being turned into a horse training facility. The remaining two are now owned by Conkey.

The gravel pits predate Enfield’s zoning ordinance, which was established in 1991. The area where the pit in question is located is zoned for residential and agriculture uses. A gravel pit is not categorized as one of those uses, but since the pits predate the zoning ordinance, they are allowed.

“We said, ‘Oh, you’ve got a business in a residential zone; you were here before zoning was here, you can keep it,’ ” Taylor explained in an interview before the Planning Board meeting. He added that material from the gravel pits along Bog Road was used to build both Eastman and Interstate 89.

If a gravel pit remains inactive for longer than two years, an owner is required to reapply for a permit, Taylor said. That applies regardless if the pit has changed hands. Gravel pit owners are required to submit a report each year about the amount of material taken from the pit so that the town can tax it. The last time Hastings, who died in 2019, filed a report was 2016.

That has led to another point of contention: Whether or not the pit was abandoned and is no longer grandfathered under the town’s zoning requirements. According to a 1976 New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling, Lawlor v. Town of Salem, that established abandonment of use, a property’s current use must meet two requirements to be considered abandoned.

“No. 1: You need to stop using it as a pit that was grandfathered, for which you can probably say he did when he died, but No. 2: You have to do something intentionally to say this was the new use when he died and that completes that abandonment,” Taylor said.

He compared it to another case in Enfield where the precedent did not apply: Years ago, a person purchased a marina on Mascoma Lake and began using it as a single-family home. Later on, the owner decided that they wanted to start using it as a marina, but because they had already started using it another for another purpose, they were not allowed to do so.

“The use of this pit as a gravel pit has been established because he was here well before we had zoning and (Hastings) did not intend to abandon the use when he died,” Taylor said. The Planning Board agreed with Taylor’s assessment that the gravel pit was grandfathered in.

Cunningham disagreed with that assessment and said that Taylor was misinterpreting the statute.

“Obviously it wasn’t intended. Mr. Hastings died. But the activity report showed that this has been inactive formally … since 2016,” he said. “So we’re way past the two years.”

Taylor countered that Hastings did not intend to abandon the use of the pit. At the time of his death, there were still piles of materials that had not yet been trucked out. Hastings also did not start the reclamation process for the gravel pit, which shows he was still using it as a pit, Taylor said.

“I think the fact that the town is requiring a new application means that it’s kind of past that abandoned grandfathered stage. That time frame is gone,” Schneider said in an interview before the meeting. “I think because the town is requiring a whole new application, that the question of whether it’s grandfathered or abandoned is moot. They’re treating it as if it’s a new operation, which it is.”

Regardless of which way the board decides, abutters and Conkey can appeal the decision to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. In addition to Planning Board approval, Conkey also will need a separate permit from the New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services because the property involves a pit that is more than 100,000 square feet. If the state does not grant Conkey a permit, the Planning Board’s decision would be voided.

The Planning Board is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, at the Public Works building on Lockehaven Road.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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