DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — In an unusual move Tuesday, Piscataquis County commissioners overruled Shirley residents who voted earlier this year to discontinue winter maintenance on a section of Blanchard Road where a year-round resident lives.
Tim Gora, a disabled resident, appealed to the commissioners after Shirley residents voted at a special town meeting Sept. 29 to close the Blanchard end of the road to winter maintenance. The commissioners have the ability by law to overrule in such a case.
“I live there. How am I supposed to get in and out of my home?” Gora asked commissioners Tuesday.
According to Commissioner Tom Lizotte, the county’s attorney, Erik Stumpfel of Sangerville, said the issue comes down to whether winter maintenance on that section of road is necessary.
“To me, it’s pretty clear someone lives there year-round,” Lizotte said Tuesday during a hearing on the matter. “It is necessary. It’s not even a close call to me.”
He acknowledged that it is unusual for the county to overturn a town’s action, but he said Shirley was taking away Gora’s access to his home.
The action by Shirley residents stemmed from the high cost of maintaining the short section of road. Residents voted twice on the issue in September. While selectmen had recommended the continued plowing of the road, residents voted 22-8 to close the small section of road to winter maintenance. When there was confusion over the action taken at the meeting, a second vote of 17-13 to close the road was recorded.
No funds were raised at the annual town meeting to plow the section of road, although the town had plowed it since the 2007-2008 budget year.
Shirley Selectman Mike Muhr told the commissioners Tuesday that the town plows 0.6 miles of Blanchard Road from the Shirley end, where 12 year-round residents live. The remaining 2.1 miles of road are dotted by seasonal camps until Gora’s house, which is about 1,200 feet from the Blanchard side of town. To plow that side of town, the plow contractor has to travel 26 miles to Blanchard, he said. The cost of that service in 2009-2010 was $3,500, commissioners were told.
While Commissioner Fred Trask opposed overturning a town vote, Lizotte and Commissioner Eric Ward voted to have the town of Shirley continue to plow the short section of road to Gora’s house.
To help the town reduce its costs, Lizotte suggested the county could ask its winter road maintenance contractor in the Unorganized Territory community of Blanchard to add that section of road to his route. The county would then bill the town of Shirley for its cost, which is expected to be far less than the town paid last year.
Muhr, who supported the move, is expected to take that option back to his board for discussion.