Settlement update leaves board unsettled

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

NAPLES – Members of the Naples Board of Selectmen were taken aback – unsettled, even – when they received word that John Chase had not formally signed the settlement, which was reached during a mediation process five weeks ago.

At least, everybody was under the impression that the town and Chase had arrived at an agreement.

According to Town Manager Derik Goodine, Town Attorney Geoff Hole and Chase’s lawyer were back on the phones with each other – trying to iron out the details with which Chase had an issue.

“We have a consent agreement that’s not totally consented to,” Goodine told the board.

So – with Goodine’s cue, Monday’s meeting went into executive session to discuss the particulars that Chase had asked his lawyer to renegotiate or to clarify before his John Hancock ends up on the formal documents.

Chairman Dana Watson shook his head in disgust on hearing the news of Chase’s reluctance to accept the settlement. Watson said the town might end up with little option but to “take him to court.”

Prior to going into executive session, Goodine reminded the board that the former Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, who mediated the settlement, had agreed to step in if problems arose.

“There’s the judge we have for mediation, he’s the guy to go to,” he said.

In March 2010, someone reported to Naples Code Enforcement Officer Boni Rickett that a clear-cut incident had occurred on the shores of Long Lake. Almost an acre of trees, including those growing in the area 100 feet from the high water mark, had been removed from the property owned by Chase. The clear cutting violated at least three sections of the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance.

This spring, selectmen voted unanimously to pursue the clear-cut case in court. However, a mediation process was recommended as a way to resolve the case. The mediation process took place on Dec. 18, 2010. Goodine described the process, saying selectmen were present at the beginning of the day, and returned whenever a quorum was required for a vote.

According to the consent agreement, Chase would pay $65,000 in one lump sum. That monetary sum includes fines and reimbursing the town’s legal fees, which Goodine estimated would total $25,000.

In addition, Chase would be prohibited from selling the property for 10 years – except if it passed hands between family members. The 10-year lien allows town officials to monitor the reforestation plan.

The only unresolved portion of the paperwork was the restoration plan. This upcoming spring, the parties involved would do a site walk to see which newly planted trees survived the winter. Also, the landscaping experts had argued two approaches for reforestation. One concept was to plant more mature trees and create a natural screen sooner. The other belief was that transplanted mature trees don’t have a high survival rate, so smaller ones should be planted instead.

Another recommendation was to place boulders around the property for additional erosion protection.  However, Chase’s attorney claimed the rocks weren’t on the property to begin with.

Because of the possibility of the case going back into negotiations, Goodine could not state the exact clause or language that was still being discussed.

“Apparently, in the language of the agreement, there’s a misunderstanding on what the agreement meant in certain paragraphs,” Goodine said.

“The agreement is specific and doesn’t allow for much flexibility. I guess Chase’s lawyer told our attorney it should be more flexible,” he said.

“It seems black and white to the board,” Goodine said.

“The selectmen are clear about what is in the agreement,” he said.

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