JEFFERSON — Town officials are trying to validate the width of Goose Hill Road so the records are clear and the town can maintain it.
But some residents are crying foul, saying it’s a power grab by the town to take away property rights.
The town wants residents to confirm town officials’ assertion that right-of-way for the road is three rods wide and that the town has an easement for the use of that width. Residents will vote on the referendum question Nov. 6.
The width of the paved road varies between 14 and 20 feet, according to Road Commissioner Alan Johnston. But he said the town needs the three-rod width — at 16.5 feet a rod, that’s 49.5 feet — to properly ditch some parts of the road.
Members of the select board say the title for the easement, including the width of the right-of-way, has been lost.
But some residents on Goose Hill Road disagree about what the width of the right-of-way is and say the town should compensate them for taking their property if the town begins ditching and cutting brush within the 49 feet.
Selectman James Hilton said the need for the referendum arose when a Goose Hill Road resident, Victoria Burbank, objected to the town putting in ditches near her home. He said the town’s attorney, Lee Bragg, suggested the referendum as a way to allow the town to dig ditches near her home.
“We just have this one individual who is basically holding up the whole work, as far as ditching around that area,” Hilton said, referring to Burbank.
Burbank said Johnston took out part of her rock wall when they ditched the road in early September. Johnston denied removing part of the rock wall.
After the ditching, part of her property floods when it rains, so she blocked the trench with debris.
Johnston said water now runs down the road when it rains.
Burbank said because of the flooding, she can no longer use the two-acre field across the street from her house for her horses.
“They should be able to come up with way to deal with a water situation. I should not be the one that has to receive all the runoff,” she said.
Bragg said that although there isn’t a physical record of the allowed width of the road, there is circumstantial evidence indicating it’s three rods wide.
He said there are rock walls three rods apart in some sections of the road, which could indicate the width of the road when it was first laid out, and the town has taken care of the road three-rods wide by ditching and maintaining the ditching. He also said the town of Waldoboro considers Orff’s Corner Road, which directly connects to Goose Hill Road, three rods.
Darryl L. McKenney, the assessors agent for Waldoboro, said he thinks the town considers the allowed width of Orff’s Corner Road to be four rods.
Burbank said the right-of-way was never three rods in front of her property, which she bought in 1979. She said it was a narrow dirt road then, and the town used to close it during the spring.
Bragg said the town acquired the rights to the easement for highway purposes through prescriptive use, which means the town can claim it after 20 years or more of uninterrupted continuous use.
“What I really think is going to happen is they’re going to take their easement, and they can do what they want,” said Suzanne Hamilton, who lives on Goose Hill Road. Hamilton said the town will be able to remove rock walls and cut down trees without compensating homeowners. She also said she thinks the town is trying to pass the referendum so it can widen the road for commercial trucks.
Proving property lines
Hilton said the town isn’t looking to widen the road. Although the town would be able to remove rocks and trees from within the three rods if the referendum passes, Hilton said the town only plans on keeping the ditches and surrounding brush clean.
“We don’t want to remove anything any farther from the road than we have to because it costs us money,” he said.
Hilton said the town would have to find another way to ditch near Burbank’s property if the referendum doesn’t pass.
The town, with a population of about 2,400, has 1,826 registered voters, according to municipal records.
Burbank said she clashed with the town previously about the width of the road’s right-of-way. Two years ago the town told her to hire a lawyer when the town removed trees and loam from her land, she said. Burbank said she hired a lawyer who submitted a letter saying her property went up to her barbed wire fence, which allows for a 24-foot wide right-of-way. She thought that settled the dispute.
Hilton said the select board did tell Burbank to hire a lawyer to prove the property line, but he said they never agreed with the 24-foot right of way Burbank claimed.
He said he didn’t think the lawyer had an idea of the width of the right-of-way either.
“Nobody on the face of the earth seems to have a clue — not even us,” Hilton said. “Everybody is guessing, so we’re trying to get to somewhere concrete.”
Bragg said in most cases, a town would compensate property owners for damages if the town were adding a road where there was no evidence of a road previously, for instance, when towns build new strips of roads to avoid sharp turns. But in this case, the road legally exists and there’s been a long pattern of maintenance and use by the town.
Bragg said selectmen have “come to the conclusion that they’re not taking anything that the town doesn’t already have.”
The town held two public meetings in September so townspeople could ask questions about the referendum, which is a two-part, 93-word question that asks whether the town should approve a condemnation order “that cures defects in the town’s title to an easement for highway purposes in the road known as the Goose Hill Road, being a strip of land three rods in width, the centerline of which is the center of the current traveled way along the Goose Hill Road running from Route 126 in Jefferson to the Waldoboro town line.” It also stipulates that the town will “appropriate no damages as compensation for the aforementioned easement.”
The condemnation process outlined in Maine statutes states how a town may take property for highway purposes. Bragg said this can be done through a vote in a town-wide meeting or a referendum, like Jefferson is doing.
Lincoln Orff, 82, said he has lived on Goose Hill Road his entire life and he supports the town’s request for the easement.
“In my opinion, it’s common sense,” Orff said, and he hopes the rest of the townspeople will agree. He said it will allow the town to do any needed maintenance in the future.
Hamilton, who attended both public meetings on the subject, said she objects to the town’s approach.
“They’re trying to tell us it was set up as a three-rod road, and I don’t believe it for a minute,” she said.
Hamilton said her family has lived in her house, which used to be a blacksmith shop and a general store, since 1928, and she’s lived there on and off since she was 4 years old.
“I have pictures of when it was a blacksmith shop. I have pictures of when it was a general store and I can tell you, it was not a three-rod road.”
Hamilton said she thinks the town should compensate people who would lose use of their land to the easement.
During public meeting two weeks ago at the Jefferson fire house, Hamilton accused the town of using slick words to push the referendum through. Another woman called the referendum question jargon.
“Gibberish,” called out a man in the audience.
Lloyd Hodgkins, who owns property on the road, said he supports the easement request because it will allow the town to properly maintain the road. He said it’s clear this will only make their job of maintaining it easier.
“It’s almost stupid that we’re discussing it in the first place,” he said.
Paul Koenig — 621-5663