The closed gate to Hallowell city brush pile on Tuesday. Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

HALLOWELL — An environmental protection department representative said the city’s brush dump was closed last week because it sits on an abutting property.

Jim Pollock, who works in the residuals unit of the Department of Environmental Protection, said Wednesday that the department was contacted by Mike Laflin on April 15, which led to department officials finding that the city’s brush dump sat on Laflin’s property and not on a parcel owned by the city, violating DEP licensing restrictions.

Laflin, who lives at the property and rents another unit in the building, said as a 67-year-old with diabetes, he was worried about his health and the health of his renters and their children. He said he attempted to work with city officials to put limitations on the property, but then contacted DEP for information about the city’s permit for the property after he felt his requests were ignored by city officials.

City Manager Nate Rudy denied that he or other city officials ignored requests. He said they provided Laflin with all information he asked the city for in a timely matter, considering the pandemic and other concerns, like a potential flood.

“I feel like we were responding to him as mindfully as we could while also responding to a global pandemic, a flood and significant staff issues,” Rudy said.

 

The city’s brush dump is on Fish and Game Road, off of Town Farm Road, just south of the reservoir. According to city records, Laflin owns a parcel of land at 32 Fish and Game Road, which includes areas south of the road, while the city owns a large parcel of land west and north of the road.

The city closed the brush dump last week after being contacted by the state Department of Environmental Protection on April 16 with questions regarding setback requirements, monitoring of the site’s use and its operating hours.

Pollock said the city’s land is licensed with the department as a composting facility, and those must be set back at least 100 feet from any abutting property. He said it was indicated through a survey that the composting site was actually partially on Laflin’s property.

“One of the pieces of information we need is the indication that they have title or right to the property,” Pollock said. “We can’t allow a site to continue if it’s on a someone else’s property.”

Laflin said about one-third of the property used for the dump has always been on his property. He said he didn’t care about it being used by the public, until the coronavirus pandemic began. He said he contacted Rudy and other city officials to work with him on limitations at the property, but no changes were made.

“Not one of them reached out to me,” Laflin said. “They left me no alternative than to tell DEP they were on my land.”

Rudy said the city was not aware that the pile was on Laflin’s property. He said the city offered to move the brush back onto its own property, but the setbacks and surrounding wetlands made fitting within DEP restrictions difficult at the existing site, even if Laflin were to sign off on a lower setback.

The city’s Board of Health seemed to come to a consensus that the pile was not a health hazard at a meeting earlier this month. During that meeting, Pediatrician Sydney Sewall said he didn’t see a public health reason for the brush pile to close, as people usually are far from each other when using the resource.

“It’s outdoors; there’s no reason for people to congregate near each other,” Sewall said Tuesday. “There’s no rational reason why COVID should have any bearing on an abutter’s (concern).”

Laflin said Rudy contacted him after the health board meeting to inform him of the board’s conclusion, but said Rudy mentioned there was a high demand to use the brush pile. Laflin said he would have been worried about congregations at the dump.

“People coming down throwing their gum, cigarettes, spitting out the window,” he said, “I was scared; I wasn’t ready to pass on.”

Laflin said he was “still even willing to work with the city,” but specific conditions had to be met. He said reduced hours with adequate signage, reducing commercial haulers’ access and locking the gate after hours were a start, but he would not elaborate on another condition he requested that directly involved Rudy.

When asked about the condition involving him, Rudy said he was wary about “going too deeply into this discussion.”

“I can relay to you that there were additional conditions that he made about limiting access to the road that would affect other abutters,” he said.

Hallowell City Manager Nate Rudy  Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Rudy said the city is working with DEP to restructure the existing location or identify a new location for the brush dump, but that was still in preliminary stages.

“Our focus is getting the brush dump location, or a brush dump location, open,” he said. “Unfortunately, the existing brush dump site is too close to the abutter’s property.”

Laflin said he did not want Hallowell residents to blame him for the closure, because the DEP made the decision close the dump.

“It was DEP that (closed the property) because the city wasn’t going by … their permit conditions,” Laflin said. “If (Hallowell residents) want to blame somebody, it’s the city manager.”

Pollock said he hasn’t sent any warnings or notices of violation to the city, but emailed city officials to inform them that they needed to show the brush dump is in compliance meet the setback requirements, or close down until then.

“I got this information (and) it seems clear what (Laflin) has told me is correct,” Pollock said. “If they can’t show that (they’re) owners of the property … or they’re meeting the setback requirements they would have to close down until they resolve the issues.”

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