CORNVILLE — It was all about empty beer cans on the road and irresponsible hunters shooting deer from Jacob Underwood’s Nichols Road front yard.

On Kelley Road, for years it was about mud-running all-terrain vehicles getting stuck and having to be pulled out at all hours of the night.

Both roads were discontinued for maintenance by the town years ago, but the town retained an easement, or right of way for public use, which allowed for legal, public access.

That all changed at a special town meeting Monday night when a handful of residents voted to eliminate the easements and turn the roads over to the abutting landowners, shutting off public access without permission from the landowner.

“The road got discontinued and I now have full control over it,” Underwood said Tuesday. “I can control who comes down and I don’t have the liability for other people.”

Underwood said his struggles to gain control over the road, which actually is a 1,200-foot driveway to his house, is being addressed in the Maine Legislature and could one day eliminate future problems for other landowners.

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, is being studied in a so-called stakeholders’ committee to address discontinued or abandoned town ways.

The bill, if approved, would stipulate, among other provisions, that if a town decides to keep a public easement in place after a road is discontinued, the residents would have to vote to retain that easement. If the town fails to keep the easement on a discontinued road for two years after passage of Saviello’s bill, then the easement is dropped and the public right of way is abolished.

On Tuesday, Saviello said problems with easements and discontinued roads are not unique to Cornville. He said he sponsored the bill in response to a similar problem in the town of Fayette. He said the bill is on hold, but could come up in the next legislative session.

Underwood said the town discontinued Nichols Road, then known as Waltons Mill Road, for town maintenance in 1948, but it was still used when the weather permitted. The road, which had a bridge and a water-driven sawmill, once connected East Ridge and West Ridge roads, a distance of less than a mile.

The bridge was abandoned in 1952 and it ceased being a through road. In the 1980s, a Massachusetts man bought the house and tried to put a cable across the road to prevent public access to his land.

The town cut the cables, citing the easement, which made it illegal for him to close the road. A court ruling in 1995 upheld the public easement.

That was until Monday night.

“When I bought this place in 1998, the road was impassible a lot of the year,” Underwood said. “I had to bring in gravel and do all the ditching at a value of around $35,000 worth of work. But anybody could still drive on it, tear it up, doing whatever they want to it. I couldn’t stop them from driving down there.”

Voters agreed to turn Nichols Road over to Underwood by a margin of 6-5. Only 11 people showed up for the meeting in a town of about 1,600, according to Cornville Town Clerk Tammy Chamberland.

The vote to close the Kelley Road and turn it over to landowners Jason Cooke and Jason Voter was 8-3.

Kelley Road once connected West Ridge Road with Oxbow Road, Cooke said Tuesday. He said the concern was that the road had deteriorated to the point where riders on all-terrain vehicles wouls get stuck and come to his house to get pulled out.

“It’s an old woods road and during hunting season and spring time people tear up and down that road, so I went to the town to see if we could close it and turn it over for the landowners,” he said. “It’s a mud run basically.”

Both Underwood and Cooke said now that the roads are private and technically not open to the public, they will allow reasonable use, but at their discretion.

Cooke said it adds a measure of privacy for his family.

“Our idea was to be able to gate it off legally during the really muddy season,” he said. “Now we can do that.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]

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