MACHIAS — The three Washington County commissioners may have set a precedent Thursday when they voted unanimously to provide maintenance on a privately owned road, part of which is owned by the state.
“Washington County for too long has closed things down, shut things up and raised the white flag,” Chairman Chris Gardner said. “If we want this county to remain vibrant and growing, we need to lead by our actions.”
Gardner asserted that the plan was to provide only minimal maintenance for low speed, low traffic on what is called “The 19,” a road owned by three parties that begins in Berry Township and ends in Crawford. The 13-mile road runs from Route 9 to Route 191. It is a shortcut between the two highways and supports a number of seasonal camps.
It is owned in sections by the state of Maine, Landvest and Malcolm French.
The issue was the subject of a public hearing Thursday after the topic was tabled at a March 10 meeting to allow Unorganized Township Superintendent Dean Preston to investigate the county’s options.
Gardner also pointed out that paying for the maintenance would not affect county taxes.
“This will come out of the UT budget,” he said.
Several people spoke at Thursday’s half-hour public hearing, saying that the road was heavily damaged in a rainstorm on Dec. 13, 2010, and that without the county’s help, it possibly could end up gated.
Michael Hinerman, Washington County’s Emergency Management Agency director, said he did not want to sway the commissioners’ decision but that the road is an asset for emergency services and for future growth.
Although he warned the commissioners that they were courting some liability by mixing the public and private sectors, Preston recommended that the county pick up minimal maintenance.
He said that would include repairing washouts created by the December storm, assessing and repairing bridges and culverts, developing a plan for all water crossings, providing annual grading and right-of-way cutting of trees and shrubs, posting the road in the spring and petitioning the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster funds for the December damage.
One of the landowners, Landvest, has offered to pay the 25 percent local share required for FEMA funding.
Preston said no winter maintenance would be provided on the road, which has been the practice since 1982. He said that current UT projects would be re-prioritized to allow for caring for the road, which was not planned for in the current UT budget.