St. John Valley

Frenchville officials propose discontinuing section of Pelletier Avenue

FRENCHVILLE, Maine — The next chapter is underway in the saga over Pelletier Avenue as the Select Board is now proposing to discontinue maintaining and plowing a controversial section of the roadway while still providing public access through easement.

After reviewing the “obligations, including costs” associated with maintaining a portion of the road “as a fully improved public way,” the selectmen on Aug. 28 approved a resolution for “Discontinuance of Pelletier Avenue.” The proposed measure does not encompass the entire road, which runs from U.S. Route 1 to Airport Avenue, but applies to an unpaved portion of about 11,000 feet from the intersection of Pelletier Avenue and Bouchard Avenue/11th Avenue near the Madawaska town line to Airport Avenue.

The selectmen will hold a public meeting on Sept. 4 to further discuss the issue in anticipation of signing a formal order of discontinuance and then conducting a more formal public hearing on the measure on Sept. 11, according to Town Manager Ryan E. Pelletier. Town officials are then planning to hold a special town meeting on Sept. 26 to give Frenchville voters an opportunity to decide whether to discontinue that section of Pelletier Avenue or maintain it as a public way.

The town sent out notifications about the proposal to the three families who live on the section of road and to the seven other affected property owners. The Select Board’s resolution states that construction estimates put the cost of paving Pelletier Avenue at $1,095,000 and that the road also would “require maintenance, repairs, and plowing every year, which collectively will necessitate substantial annual appropriations … and will be a burden on the Town’s public resources.”

Further, it refers to the “potential for ongoing and future litigation regarding Pelletier Avenue.”

The resolution states that because the road serves a small number of property owners in such a remote part of town, Pelletier Avenue “is more appropriate as a discontinued way (private road with a retained public easement) rather than a fully improved public way.”

The controversy dates back to 2016 when a dispute arose over whether Pelletier Avenue was a private road or public way. The town contended it was a public way and was in the process of improving and paving part of the road when the family of Calvin Ouellette filed a civil suit against Frenchville in Caribou Superior Court arguing that part of the road was on their land and that the town did not have a deeded right-of-way to do any work without the family’s permission. The Ouellettes, who own farmland along Pelletier Avenue, also expressed concerns about the impact of potential increased traffic and runoff on their potato crops.

After more than a year of legal wrangling, Caribou Superior Court Justice Harold Stewart II signed off on a settlement agreement between the Ouellettes and the town in January 2018 declaring Pelletier Avenue a “public way.” The agreement also required the town to address drainage and access issues between the road and land the Ouellettes own.

Concerns over the judgement and associated road costs persisted, however.

Complicating the issue were some of the personalities involved and accusations being made that divided residents of the community throughout the process. Some of the allegations led to 140 people signing a petition in 2016 to recall John Ezzy from the Select Board. Ezzy owns a home on the disputed section of Pelletier Avenue and was chairman of the Select Board when it proposed various road improvement projects in the community that residents approved. One of those approved projects was on Pelletier Avenue.

Due to the dispute, however, the only road work not completed in 2016 was to the last stretch of Pelletier Avenue that the Ezzys live on. Ezzy resigned days before the June 2017 recall vote, citing health and emotional concerns related to the road dispute, but it was too late to take the question off the ballot. Voters approved recalling him as selectman, 55 to 49.

Ezzy said Thursday he believes some town officials have a personal and political vendetta against him. While those officials are citing high legal fees and other costs associated with the road dispute, “they’re just doing this to get back at me,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Select Board’s proposal specifies that a public easement would remain to allow members of the public to continue traveling on the discontinued section of Pelletier Avenue. Since the town would no longer be maintaining that section of road as a public way if the discontinuation is approved, it appears that the property owners would then be responsible for its upkeep and for plowing in winter.

When asked specifically about who would be responsible for the roadway, Pelletier declined to respond Thursday and indicated that some questions would be answered during the upcoming public gatherings.

Michelle Sirois, who also owns a house on Pelletier Avenue, said Thursday that she is not pleased with the possibility that she and the other property owners would be responsible for plowing the road.

“If they stop plowing, and we pay for plowing, they think they can come up here and use the road? If they think they can keep the road open for every Tom Dick and Harry, they aren’t,” she said Thursday.

Follow Morgan Mitchell on Twitter @TheMaineMorgan

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