A variety of objects adorn the lawn of David Smith’s residence at 640 Alexander Reed Road in Richmond in this Aug. 21, 2018, photograph. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

RICHMOND — At odds with Richmond officials for years over his properties, David Smith is now considering his options.

A week ago, a divided Board of Selectmen voted to accept a bid to buy Smith’s 85-acre property at 640 Alexander Reed Road, which the town had taken for unpaid property taxes in February 2020. Now,  the property is in the hands of a new owner.

While the request for bids noted that a tenant was included, Smith said he expects he will have to move.

“It gives me certain rights, but it’s muddy,” Smith said last week. “All I can tell you today is that I don’t know. It’s all so new.”

Robert Anair, whose bid for $66,666.66 was the top offer, said Friday he was not sure yet what he will do with the property.

“I have quite a mess to clean up,” said Anair, who owns Bob’s Auto Sales & Service in Richmond.

Anair said he would not comment on whether Smith would be staying, adding that decision would be left to the lawyers.

At the Board of Selectmen meeting Jan. 25, when members were set to vote to accept a bid on the property, Smith told town officials he was prepared to pay the taxes owed.

“The last time I sat here, you people agreed that you didn’t want to evict me and you would allow me to pay the taxes if I was able to, and I am able to,” Smith said.

He said the request for bids failed to disclose the property is under action from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for an environmental cleanup.

“That’s a liability to the town, big time,” Smith said.

Town Manager Adam Garland said information about the state of the property has been readily available to bidders, and the bid package was developed in consultation with the town’s lawyer.

Smith’s assurance he could pay the back taxes, however, did not derail the vote.

Robert Bodge Jr., chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said Smith had not come forward with money to pay the back taxes at any point before Monday, as officials were poised sell the property to one of seven bidders.

“Here we are today, getting ready to make decisions, and there is no money,” Bodge said. “And there hasn’t been yesterday, or last week or whenever we made that decision, and now all of a sudden there’s money.”

In addition to $15,284 in back taxes, Garland said the town is owed for the costs of hiring a contractor to clean up the property, and legal fees dating to 2018, bringing the total to $39,504.

David Smith at his Alexander Reed Road property in Richmond in August 2018. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal file

Smith said he had money only for the back taxes and could pay it the next day. His plan had been to sell a 90-acre parcel he owned on Beedle Road to pay his back taxes, but the town took that for unpaid taxes in 2019.

“I can appreciate an offer and an attempt,” Bodge said. “Would I have liked to seen that two months ago, six months ago, a year ago? Yeah. I don’t know why things have changed now.”

“Only because you took this action” of moving to sell the property, Smith said.

“Well, things come to an end after a while, Dave,” Bodge said. “Heaven forbid I may be sitting in that chair myself someday struggling to pay my taxes. But I am paying them, struggling, and I think everyone else here is doing the same thing along with everyone else in town. Do I like it? No. But here we are.”

Bodge, Selectman O’Neil LaPlante and Selectman Randy Bodge voted to accept Anair’s bid. Selectman Andrew Alexander voted no, and Selectman David Thompson abstained from voting.

Garland said last week the board routinely waits about a month before it takes action to sell property taken for unpaid property taxes. In this case, he said, it was longer than that.

The property sits in the agricultural zone close to the geographic center of the northern Sagadahoc County town. It consists of a house, a barn, two pole barns, a couple of workshops and a milk house. Its assessed value for property tax purposes is $207,800.

For more than three decades, Smith has bought and sold vehicles, machinery, equipment and scrap metal. Town property records show he bought the Alexander Reed Road property, a former dairy farm, in 1991.

A long-running dispute between Smith and town officials over what was on his property and whether it was a junkyard brought them in front of a judge, who issued  a 2017 court order requiring Smith remove a list of vehicles with an option to shift items back from the road, screen them or store them in a building, with deadlines.

Smith, who at one point was chairman of the town’s Planning Board, disagreed with the ruling, saying its requirements conflicted with the town’s setback requirements, but town officials said no conflict existed.

While Smith moved some items, town officials determined he had not satisfied the requirements or the deadlines spelled out in the court order.  They issued three different requests in 2018 seeking bids from contractors to clean up the property, as described in the court order.

In February 2019, right before the town’s contractor was preparing to clean up the property, Smith submitted a petition to town officials seeking to stop them from taking action to remove items from his land and to hold an open town meeting for residents to vote to have the judgment Richmond officials obtained against him in court in West Bath vacated and dismissed with prejudice, meaning permanently.

At the time, Garland said the town meeting had no authority to overturn the court’s decision and the cleanup would move ahead.

During that cleanup, however, it became clear some fuel had spilled, prompting the state Department of Environmental Protection to test water in the area and consult with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Last week, however, David Deegan at the EPA said the DEP is the lead agency on the site.

Nick Hodgkins, an oil and hazardous material specialist at the DEP’s Remediation & Waste Management Bureau, said the property has containerized waste — old tanks, adhesives, likely waste oils and petroleum products. During the removal process in February 2019, some fuel was spilled.

“It’s been a bit of a waiting game at the property,” Hodgkins said. “We’re hopeful the new owner will work with the DEP to address our concerns on the site.”

Meantime, Smith said he planned to move some of his belongings over the weekend to a friend’s place, find a place to live and seek legal assistance.

“Out of this whole process,” Smith said, “I couldn’t believe how many really true friends I’ve got.”

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