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Pending agreement may not settle fate of disputed Pelletier Avenue

Evidence of the town’s ownership, or at least its financial interest in a section of Pelletier Avenue, may have been found in the town records. (Don Eno | SJVT/FhF)

FRENCHVILLE, Maine — The more than year-long dispute between town officials and a local family regarding repair and ownership of Pelletier Avenue took another turn during a mediation hearing held Thursday at Caribou Superior Court.

Despite the pending settlement with the Calvin Ouellette family, however, the fate of Pelletier Avenue remains uncertain, because of a referendum vote earlier this month preventing town officials spending any money on the road.

“Things ended on a positive note,” Frenchville selectmen and board vice chair Dan Collins said Friday of the mediation effort with the Ouellette family.

While neither Collins nor Town Manager Ryan E. Pelletier could confirm details, they said the principles of a settlement were agreed upon Thursday by all parties.

“At the end of the day, the interests of the town and the landowners were met,” Pelletier said. “We hope to have details finalized by the end of July.”

Ownership of Pelletier Avenue and whether the roughly three-quarter mile section is private or public property has been at the center of a town wide controversy for months.

Last year, voters approved funding for road improvement projects that included upgrades and paving of the section of Pelletier Avenue in question. Contractors were able to complete improvements on all of the roads except for that portion of Pelletier Avenue.

In the fall, work was stopped at that location when Calvin’s brother, Bruce Ouellette, an abutting landowner, blocked off access and then plowed up a portion of the road. Since that time, the town has ceased doing work on the road, pending resolution of a lawsuit over the road’s ownership filed against the town by Calvin Ouellette, on behalf of the families.

Three families have homes on the section of road, though it also serves as a shortcut for drivers trying to get to and from parts of Madawaska and Frenchville.

Madawaska surveyor Mike Cyr, who was hired by Frenchville officials to gather data for the court case, found no evidence of the town’s owning or having easements for Pelletier Avenue when he searched the registry of deeds and Aroostook County records. He did, however, find in town records a 1904 decision by Frenchville selectmen to approve the expenditure of $2,000 in “road taxes in the cross way” that corresponds to the present day location of Pelletier Avenue.

Cyr told town officials that the expenditure of taxpayer funds on the road could provide the legal evidence that officials at that time considered it a public or town way.

This piece of information, uncovered by Cyr only the day before Thursday’s mediation in superior court, may have been a factor in the parties finally coming to an agreement, the town manager said.

While a settlement appears imminent, future repairs and maintenance to the road are in limbo.

The Ouellettes also initiated a citizen-petition that led to voters on June 12 approving the halting of all further taxpayer-funded work including snow removal, on that section of Pelletier Avenue. Opponents argued that the action will compromise access to the area by school, fire and emergency vehicles.

So, even if the settlement between the Ouellettes and the town resolves questions about ownership, maintenance and access, the vote to cease all town-funded work on the road ties the hands of town officials, according to the town manager.

“The (referendum) results are binding until they are challenged,” and overturned by a judge or undone by another referendum, said Pelletier.

One of the landowners who lives on the road, John Ezzy, confirmed Friday that he had filed papers challenging the results of the vote, citing irregular voting procedures during the special town meeting.

A new vote will be required if the judge overturns the results of the June 12 referendum. Pelletier suggested that another vote should be held if the judge does not overturn the earlier referendum to give residents a second chance to decide the issue with all the new information.

Pelletier said that questions of liability would likely arise if the settlement with the Ouellettes establishes the road as a  public way, yet the town was prevented from actually maintaining it.

“I hope a second vote gives people the chance to really think about what it means,” to close the road, Collins said.

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