Searsport Planning Board members heard more than an hour of public comment regarding Grimmel Industries' site plan review application Jan. 12 but ultimately postponed making a decision to the next meeting.

Grimmel received approval of its junkyard permit Jan. 6 from the town Board of Selectmen. Planning Board Chairman J. Bruce Probert said site plan review is required for all potential junkyard sites and by the town's ordinance, scrap metal piles are considered junkyards.

Grimmel General Manager Tim Garrity described the proposed operation, located on about two and a half acres of leased Sprague Energy property, as storage of ferrous metals for shipping overseas as well as loading of the metals onto ships. Ferrous metals are those which contain iron.

Garrity said the metal will be delivered from Grimmel's Topsham location by dump trailers after being sorted, and the scrap metal will average between a tennis ball and softball in size. Plate steel and steel beams purchased from scrap metal dealers and leftover from Bath Iron Works projects also will be stored at the Searsport location for shipping, he said. Piles could be as high as 50 feet, Garrity said.

Because the site is close to the ocean, the ferrous metals will rust faster, leading to some rust dust, but Grimmel is open to conditions requiring a closed-loop system for water used to wet the piles, Garrity said.

Sprague Environmental Compliance Manager Jason Littlefield said all environmental liability will fall under Sprague's state-issued permits.

Unloading the metal is not noisy, Garrity said; “it's more like a 'swoosh.'”

When enough metal has been stockpiled to fill a ship, it will be loaded with grapples into 35-ton rock trucks, which will dump the materials on protective pads on the Sprague dock for loading, he said. The metal will be managed on the dock with a bucket loader and a magnet machine, Garrity said, adding there will be a temporary barrier placed over the water between the dock and the ship to prevent most metal from falling into the water during loading. Any metal that falls into the water will be retrieved using a magnet, Garrity said. A typical ship would carry between 20,000 and 25,000 tons of metal, he said.

The operations are expected to generate between 40 and 50 truck trips per day, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, he said; loading the ships — once per month or less to start — will take place beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 7 p.m.

The public hearing opened with attorney John K. Hamer of Rudman and Winchell speaking on behalf of several concerned citizens. He first spoke to the issue of notice to abutters and said not all were notified. Probert said his concern was noted and that the Planning Board will look into the issue.

Hamer continued with a list of concerns raised by neighbors of the Sprague location, which ranged from dust to noise to the financial capacity of Grimmel to remediate any environmental issues it is linked to.

“There's just no way it's going to be a quiet operation,” he said.

Hamer urged the Planning Board to consider the requirement of a bond as a condition of approval as well.

Friends of Penobscot Bay's Ron Huber questioned how the company could track quality control when purchasing metal from a variety of sources. He also spoke to concerns about runoff, citing Grimmel's Portsmouth, N.H., operation, which was fined for allowing contamination of Piscataqua River. Huber said he was also concerned about where liability might fall in the case of shredded tires caused by stray metal and about numerous flat tires causing traffic back-ups on busy Route 1.

Peter Tabor of Searsport said Grimmel is a company that can not be trusted. He said attention should be paid to the experience of Portsmouth officials particularly in regard to environmental concerns and fines by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“These are crimes against the United States and the state of New Hampshire,” Tabor said, adding Grimmel appears to consider the environmental fines a cost of doing business.

He also expressed concern about residues left on the metal during processing.

Speaking in favor of the project, Searsport resident A.J. Koch said rust dust from the site will not be noticeable and other products unloaded from ships at the site create more dust without citizen complaints. He said noise also “is a moot point” because there are few complaints about noise now.

“I think we should probably have our priorities straight,” Koch said.

Yardarm Motel owner Jay Economy, whose business is located directly across from the Sprague property, said he was most concerned about dust and noise having an impact on his guests. Searsport resident Harlan McLaughlin said Grimmel should be refused, “based on trust and they have shown they can not be trusted.” Tara Hollander of Stockton Springs also urged caution.

“Basically, you're like parole officers, you're dealing with people who have broken the law,” she said.

Searsport resident Dave Italiaander noted how quickly rust can form and spoke of water and air quality concerns caused by rust dust.

“You have ample reason not to grant this site plan application,” he said.

Janet Williams of Searsport noted the legal costs to Portsmouth as well as the cost of equipment purchased to sweep the area around Grimmel's operation there and said Searsport “does not have that kind of money.”

Belfast resident Peter Wilkenson pointed to incidences of increased crime in areas with scrap metal recyclers fueled by drug and alcohol addictions. He asked whether the town would hire a “scrap czar” to monitor each shipment of metal to the facility to ensure its legitimacy.

Selectman Meredith Ares said the town has worked hard to attract new business in recent years. “This is a nice town full of nice people and we're hoping to attract nice companies,” she said, adding the Planning Board should consider Grimmel's application with care and place appropriate conditions regarding compliance monitoring.

A suggestion Planning Board members might visit the company's Topsham location as well as the proposed Searsport location drew the ire of Hamer, who said, “I object to this procedure.” Hamer said gathering evidence not accessible to the public was not appropriate.

Probert said while the Planning Board has visited sites on its own in the past, the town attorney would be consulted prior to any Grimmel site visits by Planning Board members and noted there are a number of photos included in the application.

In light of new written information received just prior to, as well as during, the meeting, Planning Board members voted unanimously to continue discussion of Grimmel's application at its next meeting, 6:30 p.m., Jan. 26. There will be no further public comment accepted at that meeting, Probert said.