Brandy Ofciarcik-Perez pointed from her lawn to a sharp bend in the road as a flatbed truck carrying granite slabs overshot the center line in its trajectory down the hill toward her home.
“People fly through here,” the 40-year-old dance instructor said, holding one of her three children by the hand. “I used to actually put up barriers.”
Traffic is just one of the concerns raised by residents of Graniteville Road about an asphalt mixing plant operating at the Rock of Ages quarry. More than two dozen neighborhood residents also say the plant is noisy and pollutes the air.
Many landowners in the self-proclaimed Granite Center of the World have posted signs in their yards saying “stop the asphalt plant.”
THE BACK STORY
Northeast Materials Group, the plant’s owner, started operating a rock crusher at the Rock of Ages facility in 2009. The Washington-based company mines granite at the quarry for landscaping and infrastructure use.
Neighbors near the site attempted to block the rock crusher, arguing the company needed a new Act 250 permit. An appeal in that case is pending before the state Supreme Court.
In January 2013, Northeast Materials received an Act 250 land-use permit to operate a hot-mix asphalt plant.
Now residents are appealing the Act 250 permit in Environmental Court, specifically alleging that the company’s air quality permit is flawed. The next hearing is scheduled in the spring, attorneys say.
An attorney representing the plant claims that no one has provided medical evidence of physical harm caused by the plant. And so far, state investigators have found no evidence of permit violations.
But Perez said she can smell diesel, asphalt and dust wafting down the hill. She said her husband has been using an inhaler more often to treat his asthma since the plant began operating in 2013.
“When I first moved up here, it almost seemed idyllic,” Perez said. “I can see that it’s changing. And it doesn’t seem to be changing for the better.”
Since the asphalt plant began operating, the state has received 30 odor complaints from eight neighbors. None were filed previously, according to John Wakefield, chief of the state’s air quality permit compliance division.
He said the state has tried to confirm nearly all of the complaints, but often arrives after any odors may have passed. He said the state put three staffers in Graniteville for two days during the plant’s largest production days, and found only a few instances of an asphalt smell lasting about 15 seconds. （Wakefield said Northeast Materials Group was not informed that the state was inspecting for off-site air emissions.）
Wakefield says the plant is relatively small, and it produces as much asphalt in an entire year as other plants make in a day. He said at this production rate, there is little chance of carcinogens affecting nearby property owners. Enforcement action is not imminent.
“Because of their limited production, we don’t have much to go on,” Wakefield said. “Without some sort of state witness, there is a good chance we may not win that case.”
In preparation for the appeal, some residents have been documenting instances in which they smell the asphalt, according to Doug Ruley, an attorney with the Vermont Law School who is representing the landowners.
Lower Graniteville resident Suzanne Smith and her husband, Padraic, are among the residents keeping a record of odors. The couple are concerned the state is not enforcing the permit.
“I know numerous calls have been made and people have come up, but a lot of times it has to be in the moment,” Padraic said of the asphalt smells. “You have to be there when they happen.”
The Continuous Asphalt Mixing Plant emits several hazardous air pollutants, including formaldehyde, a probable cancer-causing agent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Its permit requires that the plant not produce any odors that cause “injury, detriment, nuisance or annoyance to any considerable number of people or to the public.”
Plant opponents are seeking to point out what they say is a flaw the Air Quality Permit granted by the Agency of Natural Resources, according to Ed Stanak, a retired Act 250 district environmental commissioner who is consulting with the landowners.
Hazardous air pollutants from the asphalt plant include benzene, formaldehyde, arsenic, cadmium and nickel, according to the 2012 permit.
Rather than placing specific emission limits for each pollutant, the state required that the plant operate efficiently to prevent benzene and formaldehyde emissions, and imposed particulate emission limits for arsenic, cadmium and nickel, according to the permit.
Stanak said there is nothing in the agency’s air pollution regulations that allows them to to this.
The citizens’ group will send a letter to the Vermont Natural Resources Board, which oversees Act 250 applications, detailing their concerns.