BANGOR, Maine — Neighbors on Eighteenth Street tolerated the three motor homes, two minivans, a car, an old rusty green school bus, even the pallet of rotted lumber, empty motor oil bottles and defunct exercise equipment in the yard.
It was the rats that pushed them into action. And on Wednesday the city moved to enforce a court order to clean up the small mountain of clutter in an otherwise tidy neighborhood of single-family homes.
“We put up with the clutter, but when it came to the rats, I got really fearful for health reasons,” said Steve McClaire, who lives across the street.
One resident of Eighteenth Street said that he trapped a few rats that had scampered across the street onto his property. Another neighbor said that she called the city after a rat “half the size of a cat” recently chased her children across the street into her driveway and up onto the front porch.
“I’ve been getting calls on that [the rats] for a few weeks now,” said City Environmental Inspector Brenda Bilotta. She said that the only rat she saw Wednesday was a dead one in the yard.
Bilotta knocked on the front door of the house Wednesday morning in an attempt to inform the owner, Aaron Husek, of the city’s plan to clean out the property. Nobody answered the door, she said.
A crew of city workers began its daylong effort around 9 a.m. Wednesday backed by a police escort, two dump trucks, a front-end loader and an excavator.
“I’m just amazed how much stuff has been hauled out, and there’s still more,” said Bangor police Officer Steve Jordan, who was present in case there was a problem with the owners.
Neighbors said they don’t know much about Husek or his family except that the debris had been building up in the driveway for years.
“As far as I know, they are nice people, they just keep to themselves” one neighbor said.
“Nobody wanted to get them into any trouble. Just clean your yard up,” she added.
The Fire Department was on hand to deal with hazardous materials. By 1:30 p.m., several empty motor oil cans, kerosene jugs and other unlabeled containers piled up on the edge of the driveway.
This is not the first time that the city has cleaned out the property, according to Bilotta.
“It’s been ongoing. There was a forced cleanup in 1994,” she recalled.
The court-ordered cleanup Wednesday was the result of a long-running legal battle between the city and the property’s owners. The city sued Husek in October 2007 in an attempt to get him to clean out his property.
When Husek didn’t, he was charged with contempt. He appealed, but ultimately lost in District Court. The memorandum, which upholds the court’s decision of contempt against Husek, lists the property as 16 Eighteenth St.
According to Assistant City Solicitor Paul Nicklas, who was present during the cleanup, the condition of the house violated “several provisions of the city code,” chief among them the International Property Maintenance Code, which deals with property maintenance and waste disposal. Nicklas is unaware of an instance where removing clutter from a Bangor home required a court order.
“I don’t know that we’ve done this in any other place,” he said.
Nicklas said that the cleanup had less to do with the rats and more with the piles of garbage and broken-down cars.
“As far as I know, the reports of the rats are only in the last couple of weeks,” he said.
Nicklas said that the city plans to bill Husek for the cleanup, which he estimates could be several thousand dollars, though he is skeptical that the owner will be able to pay it.
A large truck with a grapple arm on it was still in the area of the house after 5 p.m., one neighbor reported.