May 21, 2018
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Houlton finishes cleanup of artist’s property

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

HOULTON, Maine — Town employees and contractors have finished cleaning up a nearly 7-acre property that last year was legally declared a public safety hazard, Town Manager Doug Hazlett said Thursday.

The cleanup brings to an end an effort to clear cars, old wood, scrap metal, plastic buckets and more off the Military Street property owned by Jerry Cardone, a Houlton artist.

Aroostook County Superior Court Justice E. Allen Hunter ruled on Nov. 15, 2010, that the property constituted an automobile graveyard and a junkyard under state statute and was a “public nuisance” under Houlton code. The site had become so cluttered that Cardone no longer could drive his truck onto the property, and Hunter could not walk unimpeded through the yard when he visited it last summer before making his ruling.

According to court records, Cardone admitted to the judge that 95 percent of the raw material on the site that he used for sculptures had become unusable because of decay.

Hunter ordered that the property be cleaned up.

“The cost of the cleanup was $56,027,” Hazlett said. “It took town associated employees 427 hours to finish all of the work, but we are satisfied now that the job is done and we have protected the health and safety of the public.”

Crews spent a few weeks cleaning last December before stopping for the winter and then resumed their effort this past May.

Town councilors authorized the use of up to $25,000 from the town’s loan repayment reserve fund to cover costs of cleaning up the property. The town will seek to recoup the excess cost from any future sale of the property.

“If he can pay some of what is owed now, we will take it,” said Hazlett. “If he can’t, there will be a lien on the property.”

To date, the town has not received any payment from Cardone.

Over the past 18 years, Cardone — who is known to some locals as “The Dinosaur Man” — has displayed wood carvings and scrap metal constructions of dinosaurs, aliens, palm trees, totem poles and other pop-culture pieces in his yard. The towering sculptures include Santa, Bigfoot and a rooftop gazebo in the shape of a flying saucer.

Some of the pieces were lined up in front of an aging 5-foot-tall wooden fence that has collapsed in some spots and that partially encloses the property which stretches about 200 yards along Route 2 in a residential part of town.

Cardone’s work has attracted local, state and nationwide attention.

Photos of his work have been taken by Portland photographer Tonee Harbert and were included in a 2007 exhibit at the University of Southern Maine titled “Off the Grid: Maine Vernacular Environments.” Later that year, the Blue Moon Gallery in Houlton exhibited Harbert’s photos of Cardone’s work.

TruTV also named Cardone’s property one of its “51 Weirdest Tourist Traps in America” on its website last year.

The town took Cardone to court about six years ago to address code violations and officials went through several hearings and mediation with him. During the mediation hearings, Hazlett said, Cardone told the court that he would clean up the property on his own.

He never did.

While a number of people have complained about Cardone’s property for years, others have spoken out against the court-ordered cleanup. They referred to the property as an outdoor art gallery and defended the artist’s right to keep it the way it was.

Hazlett has maintained that the town has not harmed any of Cardone’s artwork, and that the property owner has been cooperative during the process.

According to court records, Hunter issued a sweeping order, mandating that everything on the property be cleaned up with the exception of one unregistered automobile.The town decided to allow Cardone to keep the artwork he already has created in a secure place on the property.

“We worked with him and we didn’t harm anything and we were sensitive to his art,” said Hazlett. “We did not have one confrontation with him, and he did not try to hamper our efforts.”

Hazlett said the town burned as much of the trash as possible, but still spent approximately $3,000 on Dumpster charges.

Cardone has said in past interviews that he makes his art “for God” and calls his property the “7 Wonders of God Creatures.” Hazlett said that Cardone has been “in and out” of the property since the cleanup began, and it doesn’t appear that he is amassing any more material on the property.

Cardone could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Nearby residents said they did not believe he was living at the site anymore.

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