LEDYARD — Just months after buying the house his father built off Route 12 in Gales Ferry, Paul Cerveney fears his life will be disrupted by the planned leveling of a hill behind the home.
Only a stone wall separates Cerveney’s property from Mount Decatur — the site of a fort built during the War of 1812 — where Quincy, Massachusetts-based Cashman Dredging is proposing a five- to 10-year “industrial regrading” project to turn much of the hill into a flat, 40-acre pad ready for industrial businesses.
“This is my dream home,” said Cerveney, who purchased the house in July.
Despite the hill being a stone’s throw from his property, Cerveney said a notice mailed in October was the first he’d heard of Cashman’s plans for Mount Decatur. Nearby neighbors have also expressed worry that noise, dust and vibrations from the project will cause daily disruptions.
“I already have emphysema, there’s airborne particles that aren’t able to be seen. What are those going to do to me?” said Paul’s wife, Chrissy Cerveney. “I already have congestive heart failure, I already can’t breathe. It’s just, where are we gonna go?”
The proposal is the latest idea Cashman has floated for the Thames River industrial property long associated with Dow Chemical, and now home to an Americas Styrenics plant.
Cashman first pitched a dredging hub, ideally situated for the company between its major operations in New York and Massachusetts. Facing major public opposition, however, the company paused that application and shifted its focus to developing the rest of the 165-acre site.
The company instead proposed a complex of industrial buildings, made possible by leveling Mount Decatur to create what it pitched in its application as a 40-acre pad of “prime, level, industrial land.”
A conceptual plan from February showed the space being filled by a 100,000-square-foot building, a 80,000-square-foot building, and twin 40,000-square-foot buildings. But what would actually be built would depend on demand.
Having the pad ready for development would be key when an opportunity arises, the company said, adding that the land has limited potential for development without grading.
The company also said the rock itself is “high quality” and will be in high demand from the construction industry for retaining walls, resilience projects and offshore wind turbine foundations.
Dave Harned lives on the other end of the Dow site and is a part of the Citizens Alliance for Land Use, a group of residents who have banded together to share their concerns with Cashman’s plans. He and the group pushed successfully for Cashman to leave a larger buffer between a proposed maintenance building on the northern end of the property and the neighborhood along River Road.
Harned said some people believe their taxes will go down as a result of Cashman coming into town, but he argued the company’s proposals will not generate a significant amount of revenue for the town.
“I grew up here, and I knew [when I bought my home] about Dow, and the history and the intensity of use,” Harned said. “The proposed intensity of use is so dramatic, it’s not even close to what was done there before. It’s apples and oranges.”
Paul Cerveney said he remembers when Dow Chemical was active at the site, and he could hear machinery running or announcements over the loudspeaker from time to time. It’s gotten quieter and quieter over the years, he said.
“It makes a lot of noise to crush stone,” said Paul, whose father used to run a gravel company. “You can’t quiet that.”
Cashman has submitted its plans for Mount Decatur to the Planning and Zoning Commission, and Harned’s focus is making sure Cashman meets the town’s zoning regulations.
The hill would be excavated in five phases over about a decade, starting farther away from the Cerveneys’ home, and moving gradually closer.
Cashman would first clear the soil to prepare the rock for blasting. The fill would be trucked out for use in local projects — up to 100 truck trips a day — the company said.
After a blast survey of neighboring wells and surface water, Cashman would then start blasting the rock, monitoring vibrations and noise of each blast with a seismograph. The rock will be “processed” on site, then shipped out. Cashman said it expects “most all” of the rock will leave by water, using the newly constructed pier.
Cashman’s application said the company would use sprayers to keep dust from the rock “processing” from floating off site. All the processing equipment will have sprayers to constantly capture the dust, the company said, and a water truck to spray the floor will always be on site.
The company said the landscape will create a bowl around the construction site, dampening sounds from blasting, excavating and processing rocks. Cashman claimed the natural bowl would keep sound below state limits. Blasting would be limited to between 11 a.m. and 4 pm., and other activities from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 am. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
But Harned points to the town’s zoning regulations, which state the applicant has the burden to prove that the quarry won’t have dust, noise and vibrations that are “noxious, offensive or detrimental” to the area, and that it won’t cause air or water pollution. They specify that unreasonably loud or shrill noises, or any vibrations, are not allowed to go beyond the property line.
“It’s not for us to prove that they will violate the regulations,” Harned said. “Our job is to inform our Planning and Zoning what our concerns are. The applicant has the burden of proof to show that they won’t violate the regs.”
At the top of the hill along the banks of the Thames River, the wind shifts constantly, Chrissy said. Harned said it’s the same on his property along the river to the north of the Dow site. It’s common sense that there will be airborne dust and particles that will reach neighboring homes, he said, and it’s up to the company to prove that they won’t.
“The regulations are clear that fugitive dust is not allowed,” Harned said. “Dust cannot leave that property, so their job is to prove they’ll have the systems and processes to prevent it, and of course to test and monitor.”
Even if the sprayers are able to keep dust and fine particles from being picked up by the wind and carried a few hundred feet to neighboring homes, Paul said the water from sprayers, now carrying that dust, has to go somewhere.
His concern is the family well, which sits nestled in the valley between the hill their home sits on and Mount Decatur. If there’s contaminated water flowing down the east side of Decatur, it could end up in the well.
He’s also concerned that a decade of blasting a few hundred feet away will damage the well, and the house can’t connect to the town water line.
Harned said he’s concerned that even if the project requires monitoring for dust, noise or vibration, it would be up to the small town government to monitor them. And if they proved it came from Cashman, he wondered if it would be possible to stop them without a lengthy court battle.
“We’re talking about a fight that’s almost unwinnable, because it’s David and Goliath,” Harned said. “That’s why it’s so important for the company to prove they won’t violate the regulations. Really prove it: here’s the data we have, here’s the experience we have from other locations, here’s exactly how it’s controlled.”
Cashman was scheduled to explain its plans at a public hearing in November, but the crowd exceeded the fire code capacity of the hearing room, and the commission opted to postpone it to Dec. 14 at a bigger venue at Ledyard Middle School.
The fate of the Dow site has been a topic of interest in town since Cashman first proposed a dredging processing facility in late 2021. The first informational session for the dredging last year was also postponed and relocated after residents overflowed a small room at the Bill Library.
Cashman has since shelved the dredging project as it waits for new regulations, and is focusing on plans for the rest of the site.