BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The shot heard round Bridgewater last month was just a regular shot at the Chimney Rock quarry, although it apparently shook up enough people for the Bridgewater Township Council to look into the matter.
Tom Branch, vice president of Stavola Construction Materials Inc., appeared before the council Oct. 3 along with municipal engineer David Battaglia to discuss the incident in September. Branch regularly appears before the council to seek approvals annually for operations at the quarry, which is located between Route 22/Frontier Road and Chimney Rock Road, and which was acquired by Stavola in 1977.
Branch said the shot, or blasting event, in question occurred at the quarry Sept. 13 at 10:15 a.m., a day he said that he was out of state. He added that the New Jersey Department of Labor oversees the blasts for compliance, and that the DOL had been contacted following the shot after a call came in from the Bridgewater police department about issues at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School that had allegedly been caused by the blast.
There had been students present on the middle school playground at the time of the blast, a gym class, and it was reported that a wind gust had also blown dust around the school property. Branch said the dust was believed to have actually come from the middle school’s athletic track reconstruction project instead, although the blast had originally been classified as a “suspicious incident” by police.
“The concern was that the dust was originally from the quarry,” said Branch. “That was found not to be the case.”
Branch added that additional people and outlets, such as local homeowners and schools, could be included on the quarry’s call list for upcoming blasts. He also said he had met with middle school vice principal Jacqueline Loughridge about the dust having come from the school track project, and that the middle school was nearly 4,000 feet from the blast site.
“They were two separate incidents,” said Branch.
Council president Matthew Moench asked if the shot from Sept. 13 had been in compliance, and Branch replied that it had registered at 132 decibels, which was two decibels higher than a supposed maximum, with the typical noise level later reported as 115 to 120 decibels. He said the state recorded contractor’s readings, and would issue a violation and summon the contractor to a DOL hearing, whether the readings were an anomaly or not.
“It’s the contractor’s responsibility to comply with the standards set,” said Branch, who also said the contractor could make an appeal.
He added that a low cloud ceiling or other weather conditions might have had an effect on the blast’s noise level.
Asked by Moench how many shots were conducted on average at Bridgewater’s quarry, Branch responded that there are some 55 to 60 shots done there on an annual basis. He also said last month’s blast marked the first time in four years that the normal decibel level had been exceeded.
That blast was performed by a contractor called Silver Valley, and Branch elaborated that, with the extraction schedule at the quarry, one contractor would work in one area of the site while another one would labor in a different spot. The method of shot design, with 30 to 50 holes ostensibly drilled in a specific pattern, would also be examined in the future.
Moench asked Branch to reach out to the schools about advance notification concerning future blasts, and also inquired where the township could acquire its own information about the shots. Battaglia said no one from the township is on site at the quarry, as it is the state that has jurisdiction over the site.
Moench reiterated that he would like more information, and Battaglia asked that he contact the engineering office.
“I want to make sure we’re proactive,” said Moench, adding about the possible need for making social media posts and answering questions from the public. “It’s more a matter of moving forward.”
Battaglia suggested making an e-mail or Facebook blast to advise residents concerning future shots. Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose said police have to make sure to post correct information, while Battaglia said he learned of last month’s incident from the police.
Moench explained that he wanted to have an internal standard for disseminating information, and not leave the residents to figure out matters on their own. Battaglia said that ultimately the onus would be on the township, for when it receives information from the state.
Council vice president Howard Norgalis thanked Branch for coming before the council, as did Councilman Filipe Pedroso. Pedroso, however, asked how it had been determined that the dust from last month definitively came from the school, and Branch said he had received a statement from school administration that the dust cloud was from the track project on site.
“It’s the best information we had,” said Branch, who also told Pedroso that he would make an effort to contact the middle school about being on the call list for future blasts.
“It probably should be,” said Pedroso.