BROWNVILLE, Maine — The town has been maintaining fire lanes established in a Brownville Junction subdivision for decades believing they were town-owned.
That road work and plowing were stopped earlier this winter, however, when it became clear from research that the fire lanes are private property. About 40 families live in the subdivision, according to Town Manager Sophia Wilson.
“It’s the age-old discussion about public versus private road,” Wilson said Monday.
In an effort to correct the problem, selectmen held an emergency meeting Monday to sign a warrant for a special town meeting and to authorize the posting of a draft condemnation order, according to Wilson.
At the special town meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14, residents will be asked to approve a condemnation order that will take by eminent domain easements for French, Center, Pine, Henderson and North streets for highway purposes. Residents also will be asked to appropriate funds to train new firefighters. The meeting has been scheduled tentatively at the Brownville Elementary School.
At 6 p.m., before the Jan. 14 vote, selectmen will meet to adopt the condemnation order. Public comment will be taken during the board meeting on the order before it is adopted and presented at the town meeting, Wilson said. At the town meeting, residents can either approve or reject the proposed condemnation order.
“I think it’s really important that all of our residents in Brownville come and have a say because it’s a communitywide issue and not just a junction issue,” Wilson said.
The road issue came to the forefront this fall when a person expressed interest in purchasing a piece of a fire lane that was no longer maintained or used, according to Wilson. When town officials began to research the property, they discovered the town didn’t own the fire lanes.
“We discovered we had absolutely no interest, it was not an old town road and the only way that we could maintain the lane was to take an interest in it,” Wilson said. She said everyone in town believed the fire lanes were town-owned.
The Legislature has made it clear that it is unlawful to use public funds for private purposes, so the town ceased its maintenance immediately, according to Wilson. “We decided the liability was just too great,” she said.