Landowners blockade road, stop road repair project
FRENCHVILLE, Maine — (Updated 4:45 p.m., Monday, Oct. 24, 2016) Paving crews working on Pelletier Avenue in Frenchville found their way blocked when they arrived on Thursday, Oct. 13, to find someone had parked a tractor trailer across the road.
According to Frenchville Town Manager Ryan E. Pelletier, the issue stems from a dispute between the town and Calvin Ouellette regarding ownership of the land on which the road is located.
“They blocked the road with a skidder and tractor trailer,” the town manager said on Oct. 14. Calvin Ouellette and his mother Marie Ouellette contend that the road is on their land and that the town does not have a deeded right-of-way, Pelletier said.
The Ouellette’s have papers with Maine Superior Court in Caribou requesting a declaratory judgment regarding the land ownership and charging the town with trespassing.
Pelletier took part in a “telephone hearing,” Oct. 20, with Maine Superior Court Justice Harold Stewart II, town’s attorney Richard Currier and the Ouellette’s lawyer, Toby Jandreau.
The day before, Currier filed court papers is response to the Ouellettes’ claims. In those papers, the town points out that the Ouellette deed to the property refers to Pelletier Avenue as a “public road” and a “highway.” The town contends Pelletier Avenue has been maintained as a public road for “over 100 years.”
The town’s filing also denies any trespass took place and that the Ouellettes suffered no damage by having paving equipment temporarily parked on the side of the road.
Further, the town contends that the Ouellettes are “obstructing a public way,” which is a violation of state law, and which also creates a hazard to the public.
“The judge gave the Ouellettes until Tuesday (Oct. 25) to respond to our lawyers’ complaints submitted,” Pelletier said Monday, Oct 24.
Requests for comment from the Ouellette family or Jandreau were not immediately returned.
Pelletier had previously said it is a “tough spot” to be in, adding that the window for any further paving this season is basically closed.”We want to work with the Ouellettes and try to appease both sides.”
The road in question – and its history – were part of a dispute earlier this summer. Some residents accused John Ezzy, who also owns land on the road, of receiving special treatment by having the town pave the dirt road. Ezzy is a selectman in Frenchville.
Those opposed to the project at the time claimed the road was not a public way and, as such, the town should not use taxpayer money to repair it.
That issue, also involving court filings, has since dissolved. That allowed the paving project to move ahead.
That is, until the Ouellette’s blocked the road.
Requests for comment from the Ouellette family or Toby Jandreau, their attorney, were not immediately returned.
In September, the Ouellettes communicated to the town their refusal to sign any right-of-way easements which would allow the town to “expand road construction” on Pelletier Avenue. In the letter, dated Sept. 15, Calvin Ouellette stated he does give permission for “whatever ground work needs to be done for improvements on the already existing road, no more than is already being used for landowner access.”
Pelletier said the Ouellettes have told him they have concerns about the effects the petroleum-based asphalt may have on their nearby farm land. According to Pelletier, the family also is concerned that the town would hold them liable if their farming equipment caused damage to the asphalt. “We are trying to respect the Ouellette’s wishes,” Pelletier said.
The Frenchville town manager concedes the issue of deeded rights-of-way on back roads such as Pelletier Avenue are often unclear. That very issue was at the heart of the earlier friction involving Ezzy.
However, Pelletier argues that because the town has been maintaining those roads for years, that indicates they are – informally, at least – public roads and provide a public service. In public meetings earlier this year, Pelletier said if every section of road were to be accurately deeded for rights-of-way, his Public Works crews would have no roads to maintain.
In an affidavit Calvin Ouellette filed on Oct. 12, he states that Valier Ouellette, his father, refused to sign an easement for the Pelletier Avenue right-of-way in 1997.
The nearly one-mile section of road the Ouellettes are disputing is the last portion of a larger multi-road project which the town would have completed this summer.