Chesuncook Landowner arrested after incident with machete

Posted Sept. 06, 2008, at 12:53 p.m.

CHESUNCOOK, Maine — A feud between two local residents in this remote Piscataquis County community took a turn for the worse late Friday afternoon when one of them allegedly pulled out a machete and started “flailing” it at the other, police said.

As a result of the incident, seasonal resident Francis Henry, 61, of Norridgewock was arrested for criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and was taken to the Piscataquis County Jail in Dover-Foxcroft.

Henry was released shortly after midnight after posting $500 cash bail. Per his bail, Henry can have neither direct nor indirect contract with Chesuncook Lake House owner David Surprenant nor can he return to Chesuncook. He is expected to make his initial court appearance Oct. 27, in 13th District Court in Dover-Foxcroft.

Henry and a handful of other long-time landowners in this community first began feuding with the Surprenant family in 2005 over the location of a section of Main Street. That feuding has since spilled over to other aspects of the community, including the community gravel pile, which is what prompted Friday’s incident, according to Investigator Guy Dow of the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department.

“I feel this problem in Chesuncook is going to continue until someone gets seriously hurt; they’re taking it very personal and they’re carrying weapons,” Dow said upon his midnight arrival at the jail.

Surprenant called the Maine Warden Service after the approximately 4 p.m. incident and wardens notified the sheriff’s department. Wardens Sgt. Ron Dunham and Tom McKenney boated to Chesuncook and they were joined later by Warden Bob Johansen. The trio stayed to keep the peace until Dow arrived at about 6 p.m.

Henry reportedly told Dow he had gone to the public landing Friday afternoon via the woods where he intended to take photographs of boats owned by Surprenant that he believed were illegally docked. On his return, Henry stopped at the gravel pit where Surprenant and his two young sons were digging out gravel and he began taking photographs of the boys, Dow said. He said Surprenant asked Henry to stop and when he did not, Surprenant got off his tractor. An argument ensued. Henry claimed Surprenant unsnapped a pistol he carried. Surprenant said he only did so after Henry pulled out a machete and began flailing it around before Surprenant and his sons, according to Dow.

Henry claimed he had no machete and none was found during a search of the area, Dow said. However, Surprenant had tape-recorded the entire incident and provided the tape to Dow for his investigation.

“There’s a lot of hatred and discontent in that community,” Dow said.

That discontent first surfaced when Surprenant, the former road agent in the Unorganized Territory, discovered that one of three housekeeping cabins he had constructed violated state regulations because it was within 75 feet of the county road. Researching his deed later, Surprenant found an error in the location of the road that negated the violation.

Based on Surprenant’s findings and a survey they commissioned, Piscataquis County commissioners authorized Surprenant to move about 20 feet of the road from Surprenant’s land to the north. That move upset other property owners who said Main Street had been in the same location for more than 50 years and should not have been moved.

The disagreement prompted seasonal resident Bruce Bailey to file a civil lawsuit in 2006 against the commissioners and Surprenant. The lawsuit was later dismissed with prejudice; however, an agreement signed by the parties that allows for use of part of the new road approved by the commissioners and the use of a short stretch of abutting stateowned land must be completed.

The agreement signed by both parties allows Surprenant the 75-foot setback he needs, and will provide a release deed to Bailey for the portion of the original deeded right of way used by the Bailey family to reach their camp, Attorney Erik Stumpfel, who represents the county, said last year.

To complete their obligation, the county had to get signatures on property release deeds, including one from the Department of Conservation. Now that those deeds have been secured and signed, the commissioners are expected to finish the agreement at their next meeting.

That agreement is not expected to bring peace to this small wilderness community since Henry believes Surprenant is allegedly violating laws and getting away with it, according to Dow. He said Henry sought out Surprenant with the intent to cause trouble. “He didn’t have to go to the gravel pit but he did,” Dow said.

Dow said he’s not sure what the answer is but worries that the discontent is going to fester in the isolated community until someone gets hurt or killed.

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