ORRINGTON, Maine — The town has filed a lawsuit against two residents who own property on which a colony of beavers built a dam years ago that burst two times in the last 12 years, damaging the nearby roadway.
“What the town has done is file a lawsuit to recover the money spent to repair the road,” Town Manager Paul White said this week.
Larry and Jacqueline Pelletier, who live at 10 Cemetery Lane Road, and Donna Golding, at 167 Swetts Pond Road, are being sued by the town for the cost of fixing Swetts Pond Road after it was flooded last spring when the 80-foot beaver dam failed.
The approximately 30-foot-wide breach in the beaver dam on March 23, 2012 temporarily wiped out Swetts Pond Road, some driveways and a portion of the nearby Pan Am railroad tracks.
The town paid $125,000 to repair the damage last year and would like to recover the funds, and ensure steps are taken to prevent future flooding, White said.
The 80-foot beaver dam also failed on May 23, 2001 and caused a rush of water that washed away a half-mile section of Swetts Pond Road, left a 25-foot-deep chasm at the entrance of Cemetery Road and damaged several driveways before it finally made its way downhill across Route 15 to the Penobscot River.
The cost for the town to repair the road after the 2001 break was around $250,000.
After the flooding a decade ago, “the town of Orrington put the defendants on notice that the beaver dam, and the water impounded thereby, constituted a public nuisance that — if not abated — was likely to fail again causing additional damage, for which they would be responsible,” the court documents, filed in August and amended in December, state.
The town also is claiming the Pelletiers agreed to fix the problem after the 2001 flooding and filed an additional claim on Dec. 13.
“The additional count alleges that the Pelletier defendants agreed to the installation, maintenance and monitoring of certain equipment designed to reduce or eliminate the hazard of a subsequent breach,” the motion to amend complaint states.
A device called a “beaver deceiver,” which resembles a culvert and is designed to control the water level, was installed after the flooding a decade ago, but over the years the beavers filled the device with sticks and it eventually failed, the town manager has said.
“We watched the deceiver start to fail and watched the water start to get higher,” Pelletier told selectmen shortly after the breach last year.
Town officials and others also inspected the beaver dam in October 2011, when there was a reported leak and “there were signs there may be weak spots in there,” Assistant Fire Chief Scott Stewart said at the time.
A trapper was hired by Larry Pelletier to capture and relocate the semiaquatic broad-tailed rodents.
“They trapped out 12 beavers and there are no beavers at this point,” White said Friday. “The berm, which regulates the water [level], has been lowered and Mr. Pelletier is watching that.”
Parties are now in the process of giving depositions, White said.
The beaver dam, which created a several-acre pond bordering her backyard, has provided Golding with a beautiful view over the years, she said Friday.
“It’s a natural resource,” Golding said. “It’s even listed as a natural resource on the town’s tax map.”
Most of the area around the pond is listed as a resource protection zone on the town’s land use map, except for a small section that appears to abut Golding’s property, but the town’s tax map shows the waterway falls into the stream protection zone, with the southwestern portion of the pond listed as a resource protected.
Golding said she could not comment on the pending litigation, but did say she was surprised by the lawsuit.
“I started going to the meetings to find out how they were going to fix it,” she said. “I never thought I’d be held responsible.”