PROSPECT, Maine – The ongoing dispute between the Dyer family, former owners of the Sail Inn Restaurant, and the Maine Department of Transportation may be headed for a new chapter, one that could challenge the state’s eminent domain laws.
During a press conference Wednesday, Dick Dyer, the family’s spokesman, charged that the department now plans to take by eminent domain his mother’s home and the 5 acres surrounding it. He called on Maine residents to urge legislators to change the eminent domain laws which, he said, are “stacked against landowners.”
DOT officials Wednesday denied Dyer’s allegation.
The Dyers have been involved in legal wrangling for the past five years since the DOT took the Sail Inn by eminent domain in connection with the construction of the nearby Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory. The restaurant, which was owned by brothers Paul and Robert Dyer, was next door to their mother’s home, which is located on 5 acres.
The latest issue, Dick Dyer claimed, stems from the DOT’s plans to reroute Route 174 under the new bridge to connect with Route 1 at a location farther south than the current intersection near the end of the bridge.
While DOT officials confirmed there have been discussions about changing the approach to Route 174, they denied any plans to take Vera Dyer’s home or property.
“It is absolutely, unequivocally and categorically untrue that Maine DOT intends to take Mrs. Dyer’s home and property,” said Mark Latti, the DOT public information officer. “There is absolutely no validity to Dick Dyer’s claims. This is the latest in a series of unsupported claims and allegations stated by Dick Dyer in an attempt to garner public support for his court appeal.”
Conversely, Dyer argued that the state’s alleged designs on his mother’s property were retaliation for their challenge to the department over the original taking of the restaurant.
“I think it is curious timing that we are now scheduled to go to court in one month and the state now finds it convenient to begin surveying and threaten to take our mother’s property,” he said.
The Dyers disputed the original taking of the restaurant and the price the state offered. Earlier this year, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court dismissed their appeal of the taking. According to Dyer, a jury will review the award for the restaurant beginning Oct. 20, in Waldo County Superior Court.
A sometimes tearful Vera Dyer, 78, said she was terribly shocked to hear that the DOT might take her home. She said she first learned of the plan for rerouting Route 174 when she saw the surveyors near her home. The woman, who has lived in the home since 1953, said she contacted Kenneth Sweeney, the DOT deputy chief engineer, who confirmed the department was considering a plan for the road. She said Sweeney did not say anything about taking her property.
Latti, however, said the engineer had called Vera Dyer on Aug. 25 and told her the DOT had no plans to take her property. He explained to her that surveyors were at the site to take measurements on state property for the possible installation of a ramp under the bridge connecting Route 1 to Route 174. He explained the idea was conceptual, and that no funds have been budgeted for any type of project, Latti said, and assured her “that we absolutely have no plans to take her land or her home.”
Dick Dyer, however, said that attorneys representing his brothers in the court case had confirmed there had been discussions about Vera Dyer’s property. He said he didn’t believe the DOT’s denials.
“I just don’t trust them,” he said. “They said at least three different times that they weren’t going to take the Sail Inn.”
Dyer said this time he didn’t want to wait until the department began the formal eminent domain process.
“Once there’s a formal notice of taking, it’s awful hard to do anything,” he said. “We wanted to get out ahead of them on this and do something before the official notice.”
Dyer said their only recourse at this point is to urge state legislators to consider legislation that would make the laws more fair to the property owner. The family also called on residents to contact their legislators and insist that the law be rewritten.
“Wake up, people,” Vera Dyer said. “You could be the next one. And you have no real recourse because you don’t have the money to fight them.”
She said she just hopes she will be able to stay in her home.
“I want to stay in my home, be healthy and be independent as long as I can,” she said. “Like a lot of Maine people, we want to stay in our home.”