SKOWHEGAN — Tiny Moody Street in Skowhegan is turning into a big problem.

Residents of the street where maintenance and snow plowing ceased earlier this year, have hired a lawyer to force the town to resume regular maintenance.

On advice of the town attorney, the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen voted unanimously in February to designate Moody Street as a private way, not a town-accepted road, meaning all maintenance and snow plowing would stop by the end of April.

Selectmen at the time said that, as much as they might have wanted to keep the road open and plowed in the winter, there was nothing within Maine law they could do, despite the fact that the road has been plowed by the town for as long as anyone can remember.

Resident Charles Bolstridge and his three neighbors on the short, dog-leg street behind the Skowhegan-Madison Elks Lodge have hired Waterville attorney Bill Lee to fight the closing in court, if need be.

Town Manager Christine Almand, the Board of Selectmen and town attorney Ken Lexier met in a closed-door session Tuesday night to discuss the matter and emerged from the 30-minute executive session with board chairman Paul York saying they would continue discussion on the matter.

In an exchange of formal letters in July, Lee wrote that the town has an obligation to maintain the street — even without town ownership of the street — because of its “continuous and uninterrupted use” by the town and others for more than 20 years.

In a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon before the selectmen’s meeting, Lee said there is a legal procedure that could already make it a legal street. He said Moody Street has been used and maintained by the town well in excess of the 20 years required and set in case law in Maine to make it a town way.

The procedure is called an easement by prescription.

“What it means is, if a property is used in an open process for 20 years or more, then, even though the people using the property may not own the land itself — a roadway — they have established a legal right to use it and in the case of the town, it creates a town way,” Lee said. “The town of Skowhegan has plowed Moody Street for over 30 years, has maintained it, graded it, salted it, but continuously plowed it the entire time. Moody Street has been used openly by anyone who wishes, that entire time.”

Moody Street runs in an arc from Hanover Street around to Smith Street, crossing property owned by the Madison-Skowhegan Elks, which has a parking lot behind the building. Debate over Moody Street, began at a December selectmen’s meeting following a letter to the board from residents Charles and Helene Bolstridge, both 78, who asked the Board of Selectmen to make it a legal street before winter sets in. They’ve lived there since the mid-1980s, and were afraid town snow plows would stop coming.

Moody Street fell through the cracks when the last six private streets to become town-accepted roads were taken over at Town Meeting in 2010.

Compounding the problem, according to Road Commissioner Greg Dore and Skip Hodgdon, chairman of the Elks lodge board of trustees, is the fact that the Elks club actually owns not only the parking lot, but the whole stretch of paved street to Hanover Street, including one of two houses there.

Taking his lead from the February vote by selectmen, Dore had a member of his crew remove a Moody Street sign from the Hanover Street end to the Smith Street end, a move that didn’t sit well resident Rick Hunter, who said his family has lived on the street since the years following World War I.

“I moved here in my senior year in high school,” said Turner, 62. “They do plow this whole street, or they did. They stopped plowing it. The problem is we want the town to maintain it because everybody uses this street, not just us. If the public is going to use the street, it should be plowed and maintained.”

Hunter said he and his other neighbors on Moody Street have joined Bolstridge in his legal bid to force the town to get back to the work of maintaining the street as a public way. He said Moody Street was one of many streets where “bungalows” were built by the army for retuning WW I veterans and their wives.

Bolstridge could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Contacted by phone Tuesday afternoon, Lexier said he would withhold comment on the matter until he and the other parties meet with selectmen.

“This is a potential legal matter and I am going to discuss it tonight in executive session,” he said. “At some point in time, the selectmen will make a decision about how they want to deal with the claim by this attorney that they could prevail on some legal action.

“He’s claiming they may take legal action against the town.”

In other road related matters Tuesday night, selectmen tabled a motion to allow Dore to accept a bid of $15,436 for the purchase of speed tables as a traffic calming device on streets that are used as shortcuts, both ways, from Madison Avenue to North Avenue. The devices were to be placed on Gem Street, Cowette Street and Greenwood Avenue.

A public hearing on what to do next to solve traffic problems in the area will be set for the next regular selectmen’s meeting at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at the town offices on Water Street.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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