WINCHESTER — The asphalt plant isn’t the only problem with Mitchell Sand and Gravel, according to neighbors of the business.
An explosion detonated last week at the gravel pit on Route 10 on the Winchester Swanzey border shook windows and raised ire in both towns.
“It is very loud; it is very powerful,” said Arthur E. Beckman Jr. of Swanzey, whose home abuts the pit.
Beckman has owned his house since 2004, he said, but never had a problem with the gravel pit before it changed hands about two years ago.
In addition to the blasting, which he worries is shaking his propane tanks and could affect the groundwater and his well, he also reports an increase in dust in the air from rock crushing.
“I think the previous owners took a little more precautions,” Beckman said.
But the company isn’t doing anything that hasn’t happened at the pit for years, according to Robert Snedeker, spokesperson for Mitchell Sand and Gravel.
The new attention to the sand and gravel operation is a side effect of the publicity generated by a new asphalt plant, which attracted vocal opponents even before it started operating at the pit in August, Snedeker suggested.
The rock crusher is also in a new spot in the pit this year, he said, which might make it louder in neighbor’s homes.
The blasting is measured on seismographs, Snedeker said, and only register at a tenth of the legal limit.
“I think that they’re actually feeling an air blast, I don’t think they’re feeling a tremor,” he said of the worried neighbors.
The asphalt plant is a benefit to the region because it has driven down prices local towns and the city of Keene have to pay to pave their roads, Snedeker said. He also suggested that the complaints are coming from the same group of people who opposed the asphalt plant.
“The greater Winchester community seems to be happy,” he said, adding that the company has not received a written complaint from the town about any of its operations.
But there’s no shortage of written complaints about the company coming in to town hall, according to Winchester code enforcement officer Leroy Austin.
In addition to complaints that were already on file about odors and noises attributed to the asphalt plant, by early this week there were also new complaints from two residents about last week’s blasting, he said.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. All I’m doing is compiling the information and passing it on to the planning board,” Austin said. “At some point the planning board is going to have to do something.”
As a property owner, Austin said he is also concerned that the blasting could affect the well at his own home.
“I don’t blame these people for complaining,” he said.
Snedeker said concerns about the groundwater supply are unfounded.
Other residents have different concerns.
Walter Hamilton lives far enough away from the pit on Route 10 that he can’t hear or smell anything, he said. But he has noticed that the birds that usually populate his yard have been absent since the asphalt plant fired up.
Vocal Mitchell critic Michael Towne has previously reported the same phenomenon.
But Snedeker dismissed the suggestion that the gravel pit or asphalt plant could be driving away birds.
“I wish we had fewer birds at the plant, because they kind of nest all over the place,” he said.