MERCER — Brown Road property owners say they are being bullied by the town’s first selectman, Vern Worthen II, who is trying to block public access on the road beyond his own property, which he is subdividing.

The dispute has escalated to claims of threats of bodily harm on both sides.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Fayelyne Genness, a Brown Road property owner whose access to her land would be blocked if the town cuts off public access on the dirt road. “You can’t forbid someone from using a public road.”

Worthen asked the three-member Board of Selectmen in May to close a section of the road that stretches past his property, where he has developed two home lots and said he has plans to develop more. Genness and other neighbors on the road say he is harassing and threatening them in his attempts to keep them from using the road, even as the question of road ownership remains disputed.

Worthen says the road is private, but according to the Maine Department of Transportation, it is town-owned. Another town selectman said he believes the road is private, but he doesn’t know who owns it. There is no record at the town office of the road being made private, although minutes from the 1986 town meeting show that residents voted to discontinue maintenance of the road that year.

In Genness’ case, harassment over the road dispute has escalated to the point that a friend of Worthen’s allegedly fired a rifle at her during a confrontation in November over use of the road. Property owners Larry Anderson and Eva Davis also say that Worthen is trying to stop public access to the road.

In an interview last week, Worthen said the road near his property is private, but he wouldn’t comment further.

DIFFERING OPINIONS

Brown Road is a dirt road off U.S. Route 2. There is a large area that has been cleared for a school bus turnaround before the road narrows and continues about another 2.5 miles to where it connects with Frederick’s Corner Road.

Although Worthen says the road is private, he wrote a letter to the Board of Selectmen in May asking the board to discontinue public access on a section of the road starting at the school bus turnaround and stretching past his property to the “old Clarence Brown home.” It’s not clear how long the stretch of road he’s trying to discontinue is, or where the old Clarence Brown home is, though in his letter he references a distance of .71 of a mile from Route 2.

He suggested that the town either make improvements to the road and maintain it year-round, which he notes would be expensive for the town and its taxpayers, or “my preferable action” of discontinuing the road to the public by holding a Town Meeting vote passing such an article. Worthen wrote that there are only two residents — himself and Siuleo Lafaialii, who owns a lot off the road he purchased from Worthen — with frontage on that portion of the road. Lafaialii couldn’t be reached for comment.

“The town of Mercer could discontinue the road but damages would have to be assessed to myself and Mr. Lafaialii and that would prove quite costly,” Worthen wrote in the letter. “That is not what we seek. We seek a simple solution to our issue with little or no cost to the taxpayers of Mercer.”

He also said in the letter that others are causing problems on the road.

“We are currently dealing with damage to our road and property by use of outside individuals,” he wrote. “Littering, threats of bodily harm and property damage have led to myself seeking and receiving a protection from harassment order by the courts on certain individuals currently using the road.”

According to Worthen, who has built two houses on the road and wrote in the letter he has plans for further development, the Maine Department of Transportation does not maintain the road with public easement.

Ted Talbot, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, said that although the department does not maintain the road, it is listed in state DOT records as a town road, not a private road. Therefore, the town has authority over who can use the road, he said.

Second Selectman Chris Tibbetts said he and Third Selectman Robert Gardner responded to Worthen’s May letter after consulting with the Maine Municipal Association and have determined that the issue over access on the road is not a town issue, but rather a dispute between private property owners. Gardner did not respond to a call seeking comment.

Tibbetts said he believed the road is private, but he doesn’t know who the owner is.

“That’s the essence of the dispute, who has the road?” Tibbetts said. “One of them believes they have a right of way and the other believes there is not. I can’t say whether there’s a right of way or not. I don’t know.”

Tibbetts said the town will not pursue Worthen’s suggestion that cutting off public access be considered at Town Meeting in March, and they’ve told Worthen that. However, Town Clerk Yolanda Violette said Wednesday that there is nothing stopping Worthen from proposing that the question of road access be placed on the town meeting warrant. An article can be included in a town meeting warrant either by approval of a majority of the selectmen or by petition, which must be signed by the number of town voters equal to at least 10 percent of the number of votes cast for governor in the last election.

ESCALATING DISPUTE

If the item were to go to town meeting, Anderson, who, like Genness is against cutting off public access and is a seasonal resident from Massachusetts, would not be able to vote on it — only full-time town residents have that right.

“Most of the people affected by this closure would have no say,” said Anderson, who is one of a handful of property owners from Massachusetts who own property on the road. Others include Joseph Bouchard and Glen Malo, both of whom have deeds that list Brown Road as a right-of-way, but could not be reached for comment.

Genness can also get to her property on the dirt and ill-maintained Kimball School House Road, according to her deed. But it’s in such bad shape she doesn’t like to use it.

Both Anderson and Genness also say that Worthen has started taking steps to push them off the road, even though no action has been taken yet regarding its status.

“All the selectmen said to me was, ‘You should have done your homework before you bought a piece of property with no access,'” Anderson said.

Anderson has access through another property he owns behind the one on Broad Road, but closing the road would make that access difficult.

Genness, a disabled Army veteran, said that Worthen plowed snow onto the road near her property on Thanksgiving Day in 2014, blocking her in so she couldn’t get out.

“He said, ‘I don’t want her using the road,'” Genness said. “That’s what he said, very blatantly.”

He’s also blocked the road other times, she said, including once when she was returning with hay for her animals when he blocked her with his four-wheeler, and another time last winter where he pushed snow in front of her driveway, blocking her from getting out and getting to the hospital after she fell on the ice.

Genness said she’s called the police several times regarding use of the road, and has been told it is a civil issue.

In March, Worthen filed for a restraining order against Genness, writing that she “is not stable” and that she “has damaged my property on Brown Road and makes my family feel unsafe on their own property.”

“I believe she suffers from PTSD,” Worthen wrote, according to records filed in Somerset County District Court. “There is a rumor she broke a liquor bottle over someone’s head this past New Year’s.”

Genness also has sought a protection from harassment order because of a dispute on the road that she said took place in October and involved a friend of Worthen firing a hunting rifle at her and a friend.

“I am in extreme fear for my life,” Genness wrote in her request for a protection order. She said she has never once threatened Worthen.

Eva Davis, who is also a resident on Brown Road, but lives before the proposed cutoff, said she has also seen Worthen threaten residents and is equally frustrated with town officials over a general lack of maintenance on the road.

In particular, Davis said, she is concerned about a town culvert draining road water on to her well.

“He (Worthen) laughs at us (residents),” Davis said. “He just does what he feels like doing.”

Genness and Anderson both say they don’t understand why their area of the road can’t stay the way it is. They have proposed that the neighborhood form a road association that would pay to maintain the road each year, as opposed to discontinuing it or having it closed to public access, if a change is necessary.

“I think it should just be left alone. I think the harassment should stop and we should leave the road as it is,” Genness said. “I just want to be left alone. I have a small homestead. I sell eggs, I grow all my own food. I respect other people’s property and I just want to be able to access my own.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.