Plymouth: What about that “Giant excavation site on Route 3” ?

  CLwpBS  Building Commissioner

Want to know the story behind Spencer’s commercial mining operation in the Plymouth Independent story?

Our own eyes tell us its not just “expansion of the Industrial Park” but a sand mining operation

Town zoning board member calls Spencer’s building plan a ruse to mine millions in sand

Mining exposes drinking water aquifer to contamination according to experts

In Plymouth Industrial Park along Route 3 South, developer Scott Spencer and trucking and excavation company G.Lopes Construction of Taunton are operating a commercial sand and gravel mine.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency, OSHA and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration classify this activity as a “commercial mine” under SIC Code 1442. It is not merely “site preparation” for Spencer’s building or “expansion of the Industrial Park” as some claim. The sand, a globally rare commodity, is reported to be worth about $15 million. Plymouth’s bylaws prohibit this type of stand alone mine. To evade the bylaws, Spencer testified to the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals that lowering the land by some 70 feet was “necessary” to shield tourists on Route 3 from the lighting glare of his proposed building. Really? What about the requirement to leave trees to shield the view?

Since 2021, residents some officials have opposed this project. A planning board member asked for enforcement of the Bylaw in July 2021. A zoning board member called the project a “ruse” to obtain sand and voted against it. The town has been given evidence of violations. Why no enforcement?

Town not protecting our drinking water from this sand mining

“The more we dig sand the more we pollute our drinking water.”

Planning Board Chair Malcolm McGregor, at the Planning Board hearing on the Spencer – Industrial Park mining operation, December 20, 2021.

Available here: December 20, 2021 and January 11, 2022 hearings.

Laws against mining in the aquifer

This mining operation is on top of the Plymouth Carver Aquifer the underground source of water for all wells in Plymouth and most of the 199 square mile aquifer area. The drinking water aquifer serves all residents of the Town of Plymouth. Trees, sand and gravel filter and protect our water by preventing contaminants from entering into it. The contaminants come from precipitation, stormwater runoff, and activities like sand and gravel mining. Taking away the sand and gravel exposes the aquifer to contamination.

If someone is going to do sand and gravel mining, they have to stay above the groundwater table. Environmental laws prohibit sand and gravel excavation that breaks through the groundwater lens. This is so that as much sand and gravel is left in place as possible to protect our drinking water. Exposing the groundwater creates an open wound, exposing it to contamination. At mining sites like this, in addition to contaminants from precipitation, machinery can leak hydraulic fluids and oil and gas can leak on the ground. Here, approximately 100 trucks enter and exit the site about six days a week. This has been going on since 2021. In addition, the heavy mining equipment used to sort and processing aggregate exposes the groundwater to contamination.

There has never been an environmental impact report for this site. It is well established that removing sand and gravel and leveling a site like this changes the water flow above and below the ground. Listen to experts on this documentary from Forbes Magazine.

Why sand and gravel mining threatens our drinking water: Read more in the Sand Wars Report, Part II, Impacts

Vegetation and the upper soil horizons provide a pollution buffer for shallow groundwater. Improperly managed sand and gravel operations may reduce this protection and introduce hazardous materials and other toxins directly to groundwater.Massachusetts Sand and Gravel Operation Guidelines.

Town of Plymouth zoning law prohibits mining within 10 feet of groundwater:

The photo below shows how the mining operation has exposed the aquifer to contamination. Photo courtesy of Plymouth Independent. To see a chronology – photo gallery of this mining operation exposing the aquifer contamination from 2021 to the present go here.

October 2021: Spencer Realty Plymouth sand mining operation hits groundwater at 10 Collins Ave. site

October 2021: illegal earth removal project by Spencer Realty Plymouth, 10 Collins Ave.

Sept. 23, 2022: Spencer mining operation, 10 Collins Ave.

Plymouth Planning Board hearings, Dec. 2021 andJan. 2022

First the project had to go to the Planning Board. The Plymouth Planning Board and Planning Department, Town Planner and Assistant Town Planner and Building Inspector all agreed with Spencer that this mining operation was just “necessary” “site preparation” for the manufacturing building. Selectman Quintal, while a sitting selectman, appeared before the Planning Board on December 20, 2021 to promote Spencer’s “building project” with full knowledged this is a commercial mine, operating for coming up on three years, since August, 2021. Was it proper for a selectboard member to advocate for a project at the Planning Board?

Excavation and site clearing started in about August 2021. At the January 2022 Planning Board hearing, Spencer told the Planning Board that if any sand was removed off site without a permit, it was a “misunderstanding” with the contractor, Lopes. Spencer’s own letter refutes that. See the letter below. Spencer said at the hearing that the truckloads of sand observed and documented hauling sand from the site being were just samples for “testing”. Really?

Below: Letter from G.Lopes Construction Inc. dated June 1, 2021 agreeing to “perform all associated work relative to the removal of sand and gravel….”

Summer, 2021 violations

In mid-2021, Plymouth residents noticed Spencer Realty LLC had started sand and gravel mining at a the site. The Building Inspector Nick Mayo had issued a land clearing permit that said “no gravel removal.” Landowner Scott Spencer of Spencer Realty LLC and G. Lopes Construction started land clearing, excavation and exporting sand and gravel off site by truck anyway. This violated the “land clearing permit.” Here is the September 28, 2021 zoning permit that said “no gravel removal.” Spencer removed gravel anyway.

The Building Inspector had no authority to issue a permit for “land clearing” for this project before Planning Board review. The Town’s zoning law requires a landowner to maintain the “natural conditions” on the site as determined by Planning Board and ZBA review. The project also required an earth removal approval.

In 2021, with the Building Inspector’s permit, Spencer and Lopes started stripping the land, including buffers, so that it was impossible to maintain the “natural conditions”. Under pressure, the Building Inspector issued a verbal cease and desist order Spencer and Lopes. The work stopped temporarily.

Town finally requires mining permit application, grants it

After the public exposed the violations by Spencer and Lopes, the landowner was finally required to apply for a sand and gravel removal permit. He applied under the name of “Northeast Traffic Controls.”, a business Spencer has since sold to a Georgia company. Spencer stated in public hearings that the massive sand and gravel mining operation for 600,000 cubic yards was “necessary and incidental” to prepare the site for a 137,000 square foot “manufacturing building”. The 600,000 cubic yards is worth about $6,000,000. Spencer’s plan was a clear ruse to obtain a permit for mining, as one of the ZBA members stated in a public hearing. The mining is not necessary: the surrounding commercial buildings in this area are built within the existing topography. The eventual permit was for about 488,000 cubic yards over 2 years, starting in January 2022.

As of April 2024, mining permit expired?

The January 20, 2022 mining permit issued on the Planning Board’s decision expired in January 2024. It was good for 2 years from the start of excavation, “not including any excavation performed prior to the issuance of this permit.” Best case scenario, the permit expired January 19, 2024.

Has an extension been given? If so, by whom? Where? Behind closed doors? There was no public hearing or meeting about this advertised on any agenda that we know of. In addition, why did the Building Inspector give Spencer a free pass for the mining from about August, 2021 to January 20, 2022?

Below: January 20, 2022 two year permit. Expired in January 2024.

In 2022 group seeks to enforce the law, Zoning Board votes 1 to 4 against enforcement

In 2022, Save the Pine Barrens requested enforcement of the law from Plymouth to stop this expanding and extensive mining operation. First, the Building Inspector refused to enforce the town’s law. Then, STPB appealed to the Zoning Board of Appeals. The ZBA held hearings April 27, 2022 and May 4, 2022. A majority of the ZBA denied the enforcement request saying this is just “necessary site preparation” for Spencer’s building. On May 18, 2022, the ZBA voted 1-4 to allow the mining to continue. The ZBA member voting against the mining called Spencer’s building plan a “ruse” for earth removal.

Sitting selectman Quintal appeared again at a public hearing to promote this project. At the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing Quintal spoke against STPB’s position that this mining harmed the aquifer and should not be allowed. Quintal as a Selectboard member appoints the ZBA.  They owe their positions to him. Yet, he appeared before them to speak publicly in support of this project. The Town’s associate planner, overseen and hired by the Selectboard, and Mr. Hartman both promoted the mining operation. Is it proper for a selectboard member to advocate in public hearings (or behind the scenes) for projects that have to be approved and reviewed by their own town employees?

When the Building Inspector denied the request and the ZBA went along STPB decided not to appeal. Instead it decided to monitor for violations — which as predicted, occurred. Read more below.

Over the last three decades the ZBA has issued permits for tens of millions of cubic yards of earth removal under various ruses.

Here is the ZBA’s Decision.

Town allows violations to continue: February, September 2023

April 20, 2022 Spencer Mining Operation, Collins Avenue, Plymouth MA

In January, 2023, STPB documented violations of the Bylaw. STPB filed another enforcement request filed with the Building Inspector on February 8, 2023. Again, the Building Inspector denied the request despite credible evidence of violations.

STPB’s February 8, 2023 enforcement request letter is here:

Deal with MassDOT for an “easement” on a public highway for Spencer’s mining operation

MassDOT granted Spencer Realty an “easement” to mine on the highway — why?

Sand mining violations at the site – ongoing

In addition to exposing the drinking water aquifer to contamination, these are some of the alleged violations at the mining site in the Industrial Park:

  • Expired zoning permit
  • No environmental impact report under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA)
  • On at least January 4, 2023, legal limit on 40 trucks per day
  • Who’s counting the volume of sand removed? trucks leave the site without being weighed — where is credible, independent verification of the volume of sand and gravel removed?
  • No credible evidence that the mining is “necessary and incidental” to put in the Northeast Traffic Controls “manufacturing” building — as required by the Plymouth Zoning Bylaw, Section 203-3(c)(4)

What about the Inspector General’s investigation of the sand mining industry?

Sept. 23, 2022: G. Lopes hauling sand and gravel from 10 Collins Ave. strip mine site. About 8 trucks were observed leaving the site on 9/23 between 8 and 9 a.m.

More enforcement documents here

2 thoughts on “Plymouth: What about that “Giant excavation site on Route 3” ?

  1. […] 44/Route 3 On Collins Ave., Spencer Realty strip mine under the ruse of “site preparation” for a warehouse. ZBA member Peck calls it a […]

  2. […] removal permit” applications are rubber stamped by the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board. How many times over the last 40 years have Plymouth officials been complicit in the ruse that […]

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