RICHMOND — From his property on Alexander Reed Road, David Smith is waiting to see what Richmond town officials will do next.

Armed with a court order, town officials plan to solicit bids for a second time this summer to identify a contractor who will clear a list of vehicles and items from Smith’s property that they say make it an illegal junkyard.

The first request for bidders, posted on the town’s website and a couple other places earlier this summer, failed to draw any interest.

“Nobody’s going to bid on that,” Smith said Tuesday of the second request, which has been published more broadly. “If the job market was down and scrap market was up, maybe, but it’s just the exact opposite today.”

It’s too soon to know whether the town’s second request will generate any more interest; proposals are due to the town by Sept. 6.

“The hope was to get the property cleaned up by winter,” said James Valley, Richmond’s code enforcement officer. “That’s still the goal.”

AN OLD DISPUTE

Smith’s property, just about at the geographic center of Richmond, is in the town’s agricultural zone, where homes are strung out along a network of roads that run through fields and forest.

It’s never been surveyed, Smith said, but it’s about 100 acres, stretching back about a half-mile from Alexander Reed Road. Some of it is forested, and he has a hay field.

Closer to the road and behind flowers and raspberry bushes, however, passersby can see work vehicles and trucks, an assortment of tanks and fixtures, and scrap metal.

For a number of years, town officials and Smith have had conversations about what he has on his property and cleaning some of it up.

Smith has been in business since 1987, selling materials from his property to a variety of customers, including Tim Arnold, who stopped by Smith’s place Tuesday evening. Arnold has bought some steel for some odd jobs he does, including welding.

“I think they should stop wasting money and just let it go,” said Arnold, who has lived in Richmond for 33 years.

He said the dispute is the result of small-town politics, and Smith agreed.

Other neighbors say they have no problem with Smith’s property, including an abutting neighbor who declined to give his name.

Roy Peddle, who lives down the road from Smith, said Smith doesn’t bother anyone. When he was recovering from surgery, he said, Smith was the only neighbor to stop by and shovel him out.

“If they’re going to clean up his property, they ought to clean up some of the others in town,” Peddle said. “I don’t like people picking on him.”

Smith said customers also have included the town of Richmond, until it sued him over the junkyard.

This dispute is not unique to Richmond. Across central Maine, municipal officials have relied on court-granted authority to clean up properties deemed to be illegal junkyards.

In June, the Readfield Select Board voted to pursue legal action against Matthew Curtis’s auto repair business on Terrace Road in that town. Town officials have called his property an illegal junkyard, and Curtis has tried to serve trespass notices on them. Curtis has denied the town’s claims, which include a charge that he has an illegal sign and that his business doesn’t conform to the town’s regulations for a home occupation.

In the Richomnd case, Smith and town officials ended up in court last year in West Bath.

The result was a court-ordered remediation plan dated Oct. 25, 2017, that set out a schedule that said how Smith was to take action to comply with the court’s order.

From Smith’s perspective, town officials are imposing a different standard on him and his property.

“My issue is what they have asked for in the order and what’s in the ordinances doesn’t match. They have to resolve it,” he said.

The order requires him remove the items listed but offers him the option of moving the stored material 50 feet back and either storing it in an enclosed building or screening it with a stockade fence that’s 6 feet tall or taller or by an evergreen hedge.

Smith, who said he has served on Richmond’s Planning Board, including a year as chairman, said the 50-foot requirement conflicts with the town’s setback requirements of 20 feet from the front of a building and 10 feet from the side.

Valley said in the agricultural zone, the setback is 40 feet, and it’s applied to everyone.

When he started working for the town of Richmond six years ago, Valley picked up the task of talking to Smith about his property, and until fairly recently the conversations were cordial.

“We had a handshake agreement,” Valley said Wednesday. “I like to go out and talk to people, ask them, you know, ‘Can you pick it up?'”

But Smith had not responded to letters sent by the town, and he has failed to send back receipts from certified letters acknowledging he had received them.

Valley said when the Board of Selectmen opted to take Smith to court, it made his job a little easier.

Other property owners have balked at town requests to clean up their own properties, citing Smith’s property. Since the court action, Valley said, several have complied.

“I tell people, ‘I don’t want to own your stuff,'” he said.

While Smith has shifted some of his things, Valley said his failure to meet the deadlines at 45 days, 90 days and 120 days from the date of the order gives town officials the authority to clean up the property as described in the court order.

ESTIMATING THE COST

Smith said as he understands it, if a contractor is hired, his property would be cleared, and that would deprive him of his livelihood. While he doesn’t know the value of what he has on his land, he estimates the worth at tens of thousands of dollars.

“I don’t have a 401(k). That’s what I have,” he said, pointing at his property.

But according to the court order, not everything would have to go.

The removal of items is limited to what’s in the remediation plan, Valley said. The contractor also will be able to take any vehicles that are not registered.

O’Neil LaPlante, chairman of the Richmond Board of Selectmen, said a number of boards have talked about Smith’s property over the years but have not followed through. This board, he said, did.

“We don’t have a beef with David,” he said.

Richmond Town Manager Adam Garland said town officials have no idea what the cleanup project is likely to cost at this point.

“It’s hard to estimate,” he said. “Once the cleanup starts, we don’t know what (the contractor) might find. It’s hard to tell.”

Until the cleanup gets underway, prospective bidders won’t have access to the property.

But some costs are known already.

Valley said Smith owes $27,700 in civil penalties and nearly $10,000 in attorneys’ fees, which has resulted in a judgment lien on his property.

Once the cleanup is completed, the town will pay the contractor and in turn, bill Smith for the cost.

If that’s not paid, the town can put a lien on his property. Unlike the judgment lien, the town could foreclose on that lien to recover its money.

If they take everything, Smith said, he’s out of business.

If that happens, he’ll subdivide his land for house lots and get out.

“No one wants that,” he said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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