CASTLETON — For the third time in 18 years, the Nicklaws and their neighbors say they have had their properties showered in large stones from a nearby rock quarry.
The last time was Friday, they said.
“I was out push-mowing the lawn and the bag was full so I shut it off, and I was going to get the wheelbarrow and, I heard the horn go off, the blasting horn, and then a little bit after, the explosion happened,” said Larry Nicklaw. “And a few seconds after the explosion I could hear some rocks whizzing. I looked over on the lawn, there was a big chunk that blew apart. Part of it lodged into the fence. But throughout that time I could hear the rocks whizzing above my head.”
He said he wasn’t hit by a stone, but the event was terrifying all the same.
“When it did happen, by the time I got my thoughts together I turned around, put my back towards it and put my hands over my head trying to crouch down, just not knowing what’s going to hit you,” he said. “It’s like watching old war movies and not knowing where a missile or a hand grenade is going to land next to you.”
Larry and Jayne Nicklaw have lived at 999 Blissville Road since 1992, according to Jayne Nicklaw. The first time rocks from the nearby quarry landed on their property was in 2003. It happened again in 2006. She said she’s gone to the town, the state, and even Vermont’s congressional delegation for a solution, but nothing has come of it.
Jayne Nicklaw said Monday that there were no active quarries near their property when they purchased it. They were told by their Realtor the operations were inactive, but as the years went by the quarries started up again and began expanding.
She maintains these stones are coming from Camara’s Quarry. A line of trees and a stone berm separate the properties, leading her to believe the stones, some thought to weigh around 20 pounds, were airborne for at least 1,000 feet.
“They would definitely kill you,” she said. “The thing is when they hit, they hit with such force that they fly apart, like shrapnel, and all sorts of sizes of rocks go flying.”
She said that sometimes a horn will sound before a blast, but her understanding is the horns are for the people at the blasting site. Sometimes there will be a blast with no horn, she said.
The Nicklaws said Castleton Police Chief Peter Mantello came by after Friday’s event, took photographs and collected some of the larger rocks. According to Jayne Nicklaw, after the 2006 incident, Vermont State Police were summoned, but nothing came of it.
She said her neighbors also have had this issue and have contacted police and state officials to no avail.
She said there was some effort to have slate quarries regulated more by Act 250 five or six years ago, but nothing came of it.
“I’m going to find someone who is going to do something about it this time,” she said. “We’ve had it. I think the people in the neighborhood have had it, and I’m sure there are other people around the state near slate quarries that have had it.”
Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, stated in an email Monday that most slate quarries aren’t regulated by Act 250, but for a few exceptions that mostly pertain to wetland rules.
According to Smith, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife has heard testimony on slate quarries in 2015 and in 2018. Smith said she spoke to some quarry operators after this, “trying to evaluate whether a stakeholder group meeting would work to try to address the problems, but it became evident that the slate quarriers are not all on the same page, so there was no point,” she stated. “Some will not join the association they formed, and so there is always talk about the bad actors that they can’t control.”
She said the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration can regulate safety for quarry workers, which doesn’t do much for people like the Nicklaws. The state Department of Public Safety can regulate how explosives are stored, but likewise has little say here.
Calls to Camara’s Quarry weren’t returned, nor were calls to Castleton Town Manager Mike Jones, Mantello or to the enforcement division of the Natural Resources Board.