DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The gate blocking Wilson Stream Pond Road in Elliotsville Plantation has been opened and will stay open for the foreseeable future.
After searching through archived records in Dover-Foxcroft and Augusta, the Piscataquis County commissioners ruled on Tuesday that a gate erected by philanthropist Roxanne Quimby last year was not legal because the road is, in part, still a county road.
“We were operating under the impression that it was an abandoned road,” Commissioner Thomas Lizotte said Friday. “It turns out not all of it was discontinued. A small portion of it is still technically a county way.”
Lizotte said a clerical mistake made back in 1970 was a reason for the confusion.
The state statute reads that if the road had not been maintained by the county in the last 30 years, it is considered abandoned. The investigation led by County Manager Marilyn Tourtelotte and attorney Erik Stumpfel discovered that the county added gravel to some potholes on the road in 1988. The last substantial work to the road was done in 1984, which is within the 30-year window.
“That has shown a new light on the situation,” said Lizotte. “It doesn’t mean [the county] has to maintain the road, but Roxanne Quimby or anyone else has no right to put a gate on that road. They have opened the gate. The local residents in Elliotsville have been pleased with that.”
Quimby said the gate was opened three weeks ago.
“The gate was removed on Jan. 17, 2012, when we became aware that the road in question was not discontinued in 1930 as was previously represented to us,” Quimby said in a statement. “We have always done our best to balance private property rights and public access and we will continue to do so.”
The road, which also has been known over the years as Wilson Road, Little Wilson Road and Campground Road, dates to the 1880s.
Elliotsville Plantation residents Clowes Brown, Roy McSorley and Jim Buchanan had asked the commissioners to declare the road a legal right of way in order to remove the gate. After gathering evidence that the road had been maintained by the county in the last 30 years, commissioners decided to hire a lawyer to look into the matter.
“I feel good about it. I think it is a victory,” said McSorley. “I think an awful lot of credit goes to Stumpfel. He really dug into it and found out what the story was.”
Brown said he was also pleased with the commissioners’ decision.
Lizotte said the commissioners will take a look at the road in the spring to decide what further decisions need to be made.
“The county can still maintain a recreational easement,” said Lizotte. “We can put restrictions if we need to, which includes no motorized vehicles. Even if we decide to discontinue it as a county road, people should be able to use it as a recreational easement to get to the scenic area around the waterfall.”
Records on roads can be complicated, said Lizotte.
“It was very much a history lesson,” he said. “[Nearly 30 years ago], both the plantation and the county commissioners kind of walked away without nailing down what is the legal status of this road. It’s been in limbo since 1983.”