ELLSWORTH, Maine — A Dedham couple who lives on Goose Pond has been awarded a $150,000 judgment against Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. after they sued the company for allowing trees to be cleared from a nearby property owned by the power distribution company.
Bangor Hydro permitted a Freeport construction firm to cut trees on 4 acres the power distribution company owns along Route 1A and to use the cleared land as a staging area for construction materials when the adjacent section of highway was reconstructed in 2005 and 2006, according to a complaint filed by Christian and Tonya Andersen in Hancock County Superior Court.
The presiding judge in the weeklong trial, William Anderson, still is expected to decide whether remediation such as replanting trees or environmental monitoring should be ordered to alleviate some of the problems at the site. Attorneys involved in the case said they could be called back to court to present oral arguments on the remediation issues but that a date has not been set.
According to a prepared statement released last week by the Andersens’ attorney, Charles Gilbert of Bangor, Bangor Hydro did not inform the road contractor, CPM Constructors, that there are protective covenants on the property that limit how it can be used. The cleared parcel is part of a 600-acre property Bangor Hydro owns near the Andersens’ home and Goose Pond.
The Andersens alleged that covenants on the Bangor Hydro property do not allow it to be cleared or used as a staging area for construction materials. They claim that the construction firm violated restrictions on how the land can be used by burying items such as sections of guardrail, cables, tires, propane tanks and road signs on the site for disposal.
According to Gilbert, the covenants on the property also prohibit the construction of residential dwellings and require that all timber on it be harvested with sustainable forestry practices, among other things. The restrictions were not at issue during the trial.
The Andersens claimed that runoff from the site affected the water quality of Goose Pond, which they use as their home’s water source. Since the parcel was cleared of trees, the couple said, they have not been able to use for any extended period of time appliances that use water from the lake. The filters on the appliances cannot effectively filter out clay that now routinely washes into the lake from the clearing site, according to the couple.
The couple also claimed that their property now gets more light and noise from Route 1A because of the thinner buffer of trees caused by the clearing and that, because the pond is more visible from the highway, they get more uninvited people who want to get a better look at the pond by driving down their private road.
Christian Andersen, testifying in the case on Oct. 2, told the jury that before the road construction project began their 23 acres on Goose Pond, which he and his wife bought in 1993, had an estimated value of roughly $2 million. Because of the changes to their property caused by tree cutting, he said, the property now is worth about $500,000. If they were to sell, he added, he would feel obligated to tell prospective buyers about the water quality problems at the property.
The Andersens sought to recover unspecified damages in the lawsuit, leaving it up to the jury and the judge to determine what sort of penalty or remediation may be appropriate.
According to Gilbert, the jury of six men and four women determined that CPM Constructors did not bear responsibility for how the Andersens’ property was harmed because Bangor Hydro did not inform the construction company about the covenants.
“I think they listened very carefully and did a good job,” Gilbert said of the jury.
The fact that the jury awarded to the Andersens a monetary amount of damages that is less that the estimated $1.5 million loss in value to their property, Gilbert added, demonstrates that the jury “came down somewhere in the middle” of the arguments presented in court.
Bangor Hydro’s attorney, David King of Bangor, declined to comment Tuesday on the jury verdict. Susan Faloon, spokeswoman for Bangor Hydro, also declined to comment on Tuesday because the case has not yet been completely resolved.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.
An earlier version of this story requires correction. Christian and Tonya Andersen, not Anderson, filed a complaint against Bangor Hydro.