WALDO, Maine — Pete Velanzon says a school bus driver told his family that if the town doesn’t do a better job fixing the potholes on his road, the bus wouldn’t be able to pick up his 11-year-old son.
Velanzon believes the poor condition of several unpaved roads in Waldo is hazardous and means that emergency vehicles such as firetrucks and ambulances might have a hard time getting through. He said that he has been in near misses with vehicles that have gone out of control because of the ruts while waiting for the school bus with his son. He said that he has counted at least 5,000 potholes in the road, and while the actual number hasn’t been verified, many who live on the road agree that it is riddled with potholes.
Rick Gordon, who also lives on East Waldo Road, said that recently he took an ambulance ride after his back went into painful spasms.
“I think the ride to the hospital made it worse,” he said, remembering how the emergency vehicle hit potholes that he estimated were 2 feet deep. “The ambulance guys couldn’t believe it.”
On Tuesday, Velanzon began circulating an unofficial petition to his neighbors and others who live on the unpaved Savage Road, Bonne Terre Road and Back Brooks Road. The petition urges the town to immediately take steps to “correct this dangerous and unnecessary situation.”
“Someone’s going to have to die or lose their home burnt flat before the town does something,” Velanzon said Wednesday. “We’re trying to get something done before the worst happens.”
He said he intends to present the petition to the town at a breakfast meeting held before the annual town meeting in March. He also filed a Freedom of Access Act request this week with the town to look at years of maintenance records for the roads.
“So all the townspeople will know what’s going on,” he said.
Kathy Littlefield, who has been first selectman for this tiny community of 733 people for 40 years, said that she can’t discuss the matter at length. After receiving Velanzon’s request for the documents, the town has consulted an attorney.
“The town of Waldo does the very best it can, with the resources available to it, to respond to the needs of all the residents,” she said Wednesday. “And we have done so.”
Velanzon disagrees. Even with most of the potholes filled with snow and ice on Feb. 1, a drive down East Waldo Road was a rattling, bone-jarring experience.
“Right now, it’s like dreamland, compared to the springtime,” said Wayne Marshall, a resident of the road who also is the Belfast city planner.
He said that three years ago, his wife rolled her car after hitting a “nasty pothole.” She wasn’t hurt, but the car was totaled and she was shaken up a lot.
“It was largely because of road conditions,” he said.
He has suggested the town take out a municipal bond to fix the road, but that has not happened, he said.
Other neighbors said that the potholes and ruts are hard on cars, trailers and people. Tom Seymour, a writer who lives on East Waldo Road, said that the problem is of long standing.
“I’ve been pounding my head against the wall with this for 30-something years,” he said.
In that time, he said he had to replace the front end of a new car and has broken mounts and springs on a boat trailer, all because of the roads. Now Seymour leaves his boat parked at a friend’s house in Belfast so he doesn’t have to take it over “this awful, terrible road.”
Seymour said that he was shocked that a paved road in nearby Swanville won last year’s Worst Road in Maine contest, sponsored by the Maine Better Transportation Association. He entered East Waldo Road and couldn’t believe it when Route 141 came in first place.
“If my road were half as good as that, I’d be delighted. Elated,” Seymour said.
He believes that if the road was properly graded each year, it would greatly minimize the potholes and the problems.
“When you grade it, you need to take time,” he said.
But that doesn’t happen in Waldo, Seymour said, and he has told Littlefield that he is unhappy with the end result.
“I said, you’ve wasted tax money, and the property taxes have gone up. I resent paying more in taxes for poor services,” Seymour said.
Although Marshall agrees that the grading work could be improved, he does think the town has been doing quite a few things in recent years to try to make the road better. The town has replaced several culverts recently and has been plowing the road regularly in the wintertime.
“They were really responsive last year, when the road was really nasty,” he said. “I’ve been encouraged by some of the work they’ve done.”
Deb Burwell, another East Waldo Road resident, said she understands that dirt roads come with their own challenges but the poor condition of her road is beginning to be a divisive issue in the neighborhood.
“I do feel that we’re not getting the value that we need to be getting out of the work that we’re putting into it,” she said. “I take responsibility for buying a house on a dirt road. I wanted to live on a dirt road. I just want it to not be as bad as it is.”