Residents storm meeting over roads’ plowing

 

A FULL HOUSE — for road plowing issue. Residents attend a Casco Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday, during which time the continued wintertime maintenance of private roads was on the agenda. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Residents drove from all directions to attend Tuesday night’s meeting on the plowing of private roads.

The Casco Community Center’s large meeting room was filled to capacity, with many people standing and unable to move through the crowd to get to the microphone during the hour-long discussion.

Prior to the start of the meeting, Casco Town Manager Dave Morton asked that the noisy air conditioning unit be shut off so people could hear what was being said. It did not take long for the jam-packed room to warm up on an already muggy evening.

Despite the rising temperature, for the most part, the residents who were present were cordial and there were only a few heated exchanges.

After all, a well-plowed and sanded road during the winter months is a much-needed commodity. A road cleared of snow allows people to get to their jobs, to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy, and to feel assured that an emergency vehicle could drive in should a crisis arise.

Wintertime maintenance of private roads is a service that the Town of Casco provides as long as the road is declared a public easement. It is a budgetary item that must be approved each year at the Annual Town Meeting because of a state law saying tax dollars cannot be spent on private roads.

As pointed out by Selectman Grant Plummer, for several years the board has been trying to improve the standards of the roads that receive plowing.

“If you remember last winter, we had some problems with snow and we had problems with the roads,” Plummer said. Additionally, roads in poor condition compromise the snow-removal equipment used by the town-hired contractor, he said.

All the public easements currently being plowed and sanded will have to adhere to the 1972 road standards, Plummer said.

Any new roads added to the wintertime maintenance list will be required to live up to the 2015 standards. Having such roads added to the list also requires the approval of the selectmen.

During a phone interview on Wednesday morning, the town manager said that people living on public easements will not be thrown under the bus and snow-plowing will continue to be kept up to speed.

“We will continue to provide the service” of plowing and sanding, Morton said.

“We won’t pull the plug on them. I think folks will have plenty of time to make adjustments to roads so they will continue to comply,” he said. “The board may send out notices, saying that you have two years” to bring this or that road up to compliance.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting and at the selectmen’s request, town staff notified people living on public easements via postcard mailings.

“We sent a postcard to every property owner on those roads where we provide those services, making them aware of the meeting last night. It worked out well. We had a great turnout,” Morton said.

On Tuesday night, packets were provided for the residents and road associations. The packets included a copy of the ’72 road standards and a checklist so people can make certain their roads met those standards. Essentially, people were being requested to use the checklist as a guide to assess the roads and then to have the road commissioner do a site walk of the road to confirm everything is up to standard.

However, before the discussion began, the stack of copies had been depleted.

“The reason we are meeting with you folks is to figure out how to move forward” with improving the roads, Plummer explained.

“We just want to provide a good service,” he said. “And, the contractor is beating up his equipment on some of these roads.” Plummer mentioned the fact that when many of the roads were built, snowplow trucks were smaller than what is being used now-a-days. Also, emergency vehicles have increased in size compared to the times when camp roads were established.

“We are hearing from the contractor saying he can no longer take a big truck down some of the roads,” Plummer said.

  1. Pond Plowing is contracted by the town to maintain public easements and town roads during the winter, whereas the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) shoulders the responsibility of snow removal on state-owned roads.

The objective of the Casco board was to gather public input on how the town could assist property owners with better maintaining roads. This is a conversation that will continue as the road standard problem is ironed out.

“We would like to hear a bit from you guys,” Plummer said. “We would like to talk about the problems you guys have in trying to meet these standards and how to get these roads to a standard that is higher than it is today.”

“It cost us $6,000 per road for the winter,” Plummer stated.

James Douchette, who lives off Fieldcrest Road, was one of the first residents to speak. Fieldcrest Road was constructed in 2007, and Douchettes home was built in 2010, he said. There are nine neighbors on the road, which is 2/10 of a mile long, he said.

“It is rather frustrating. Our tax dollars go toward town services. Evidently, town plowing wasn’t one of them,” Douchette said.

Selectman Plummer said possibly, when the developer brought the subdivision plan before the Casco Planning Board, it was agreed that wintertime maintenance by the town was not on the table.

“Go back and research the site plan,” Plummer said.

Douchette asked, “Then, what do my taxes go toward?”

Plummer said the majority of Casco’s property taxes go toward the school budget.

“What if my kids cannot get to school because the road isn’t plowed,” Douchette asked.

Plummer said, “Most subdivisions have [in writing] that the town won’t provide road services when it [the site plan] was approved.”

Someone from the audience stepped up to the microphone with a question.

“Is the purpose of the meeting updating the standards or whose roads are going to be plowed or not?” the person said.

Shortly after that comment, Morton said the town would not stop services on the roads currently being maintained during the winter.

Then, the discussion turned to how residents could check the standards of their roads and also put together a game plan for getting substandard roads up to snuff.

The proper width for a road to receive plowing services is 18-feet with 3-foot shoulders, according to the ’72 standards. Additionally, plow vehicles need about 15-feet of clearance from overhanging branches. It was decided with pine boughs and birch limbs more clearance might be required since those trees hold onto snow causing the branches to sag.

“Anybody can do a self-check,” Morton said. “Is the road 18-feet wide? Is there a place to turn the truck around at the end of the road? If those things look good, then you are good to go.”

Residents living on public easements, who did not get a copy of the ’72 road standards checklist, or did not attend the meeting, may pick up a copy at the town hall.

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