Dispute over access delays junk removal

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — On one hand, there are almost a dozen unregistered vehicles, boat trailers and campers that have value and some vintage history to the extended family that owns them.

On the other hand, the abutting property owners savor compliments from visitors about how nice their yard is, and endure comments about the clutter on the lot next door.

In between the two neighbors is a shared, narrow road overgrown with brush, and sometimes blocked with a vehicle.

This spring, Don and Brenda Wallace purchased the foreclosed property that abuts theirs— with the hopes of cleaning up what they referred to as “junk,” putting up a fence, and retaining the parcel as a woodlot.

The Wallaces said that lack of access to the shared road, which is located off Route 121, has halted their ability to clean up their newly-acquired property.

The Town of Casco became involved when the bank that formerly owned the foreclosed parcel called the code enforcement officer. While the town is not the entity to resolve neighbors’ disputes, the concern is the removal of unregistered vehicles that might pose an environmental hazard.

Essentially, all property owners are in violation of the state’s junkyard ordinance.

On Tuesday, the Casco Board of Selectmen listened to stories of a feud between two families that has involved law enforcement over the months.

The selectmen unanimously agreed to give all of the property owners — the Wallaces and the family of John Theriault – 30 days to remove all inorganic material.

If that task is not completed in 30 days, both parties will be fined $250 a day; and that fine is retroactive to Aug. 6.

The matter of the shared road is one that can be hashed out by the Casco Planning Board at a later date.

According to Town Manager Dave Morton, when the land was first subdivided the planning board tried to limit the number of roads leading off Route 121 — as a safety measure. However, the deeds do not show how deep or how many feet back the shared road travels. The road is reported to be more than 25 feet wide. When the road was built, the land was cleared on what it now the Theriault’s property line.

According to Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) Don Murphy, a road could be built in a matter of two days — allowing for a cleanup effort in the immediate future.

“Each time I have sent a letter (about the violations) people have called me back to talk about taking care of things,” Murphy said.

Already, following mediation by the court system, an attempt was made by both parties to start that process last week. But, that failed.

“There was a lot of momentum, and then some difficulty wrapping it up,” Murphy said.

Theriault’s niece, Jessica Jackson, spoke on the behalf of her mother, saying the family had rented a dumpster, which was placed on common land. Jackson said her family wanted the property cleaned up as much as the Wallaces and had started to haul off vehicles.

However, the Wallaces said that dogs had been chained on the access road and new “no trespassing” signs had been posted, which deterred them from getting the job done.

Jackson explained that the dog needed to be chained some distance from the other canines; and a deputy from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office had advised she put up the signs warning people of the dog.

“I hoped they had taken everything off the property. There were 160 tires and trash. They did not continue to clean the property after taking the vehicles or moving them to their side,” Wallace said. “My intention for the land: It is just a bigger buffer between us. All I want to do is clean that land up, and know where my driveway is,” Wallace said.

Jackson said she met with the Wallaces after hearing they had bought the property.

“I congratulated the Wallaces on purchasing the property and said I was glad it was them, and not some strangers. We wanted to clean up as soon as the snow melted. We didn’t want this coming back on us. We were getting heat from the DEP,” she said, referring to the Department of Environmental Protection, which had visited the property and found no waste oil leaks.

“There has been no agreement by either party. It’s not just us,” Jackson said.

If there were any questions as to why the board appeared to be sitting in the jury box — listening to testimony about a contentious relationship between two families, the town manager clarified why this issue was on the agenda.

“The only reason we bring a land-use violation to the board is if there is a follow-through required,” Morton said.

“Two neighbors, two abutters — there is a whole lot of disagreement. That hasn’t been a town issue. That is a private disagreement between neighbors. That is not our issue,” he said.

“The issue is the junkyard violation.” Morton said.

According to Jackson and her mother, there are about 10 vehicles — including a purple 1984 Mustang convertible — and fifth wheel campers that are not yet registered.

The Wallaces, who have two sons, have five registered vehicles and two unregistered rigs including a plow truck in their yard.

Casco residents are allowed to have no more than two vehicles that are not registered, Morton said.

According to Morton, the board’s job in the matter is to authorize a penalty for not removing or registering the vehicles within a certain period of time.

Now that the board has established a retroactive penalty, the neighbors have little choice other than to cooperate on this cleanup project. Failing to do so by Sept. 6 will result in fines of at least $7,500 levied against both parties.

During the lengthy discussion, Murphy said, “The original owner will broker access to finish the job up. It just has to be coordinated. Someone has to spend some money to get rid of stuff.”

Chairman Mary-Vienessa Fernandes agreed.

“There is a lot of confusion. There has to be some way that the two parties could come together for a few days or a week or whatever,” she said.

“We have a violation with it being a junkyard,” Fernandes said.

 

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