Hodgdon winter road closures raise concerns among residents

Posted June 27, 2013, at 12:25 p.m.
Hodgdon Town Manager Jim Griffin points out a section of road to be closed on a map during a special town meeting Monday. About 100 residents turned out for the meeting.
Joseph Cyr/Houlton Pioneer Times photo
Hodgdon Town Manager Jim Griffin points out a section of road to be closed on a map during a special town meeting Monday. About 100 residents turned out for the meeting.

HODGDON, Maine — Closing a road to winter maintenance is a common practice for many small municipalities.

By opting not to plow certain roads, a town can save several thousand dollars. But what happens to any residents who live on a road that isn’t plowed?

That topic was debated Monday evening in Hodgdon as group of about 100 residents packed the Hodgdon Mill Pond School for a special town meeting on road closures.

According to Hodgdon Town Manager Jim Griffin, 10 roads are closed in the town each winter as a way to save taxpayers money. Portions of the Green, Horseback, Ingraham, Little, London, McGillicuddy, South McIntyre, South Town Line and White Settlement roads, as well as Lindor Lane are regularly closed each winter.

Signs are also placed on those roads to notify individuals that the roads are not maintained in the winter months of November to April.

“We have some individuals who have bought some land and want to build a house on a road that is closed and we have another that has already built a home,” Griffin said. “This meeting will let the townspeople decide what they want to do.”

Previously, the town visited road closures every 10 years. However, a shift was made in recent years to visit the topic on a five-year cycle. That five-year time period expires in 2013.

Of the 10 roads listed, only two — Green and London roads — drew any discussion during Monday night’s meeting.

Deb and Tim Wynes first came to Hodgdon 11 years ago from Buffalo, N.Y. The couple purchased a piece of land on the London Road and initially set up a tent and then a camper so they could enjoy summers in Hodgdon.

Three years ago, the Wyneses began building their dream home at 126 London Road with the idea of permanently moving to Hodgdon. That home is now complete and the Wyneses would like to be able to occupy their home year-round, but living there this winter will prove challenging for the couple if they are unable to get in and out of their driveway.

“We have been 10 years trying to open this road,” Tim Wynes said. “We would like this road opened up so we can get to our home and jobs. We pay taxes just like everybody else.”

“We love this town,” Debbie added. “If things stay the way they are, we will not have access to emergency services in the winter months. We will not have safe and convenient travel the way everyone else does.”

Griffin said in order for the London Road to be opened in the winter, extensive reconstruction would need to be done first. The town received two bids — $69,000 and $83,000 — for the reconstruction project, but deemed it too costly to pursue.

In addition, it would cost about $4,000 per year to plow, Griffin added.

Residents voted 73 in favor of closing the London Road, with 17 opposed.

The Green Road presented a slightly different scenario, as an individual has expressed an interest in building a home on that road.

Griffin estimated that it would cost about $15,000 to keep the Green Road open.

“If there were enough people wanting to build on one of these roads, it would help the tax base,” Griffin said. “But the expense is greater than one house will take care of [with property taxes].”

The two articles to close different sections of the Green Road passed 77-0 and 91-0. All of the other road closures were approved with simple “Yay” or “Nay” votes.

Any resident can petition the town to revisit a road closure if they can obtain seven signatures from registered voters. The town’s Board of Selectmen also has the authority to revisit individual roads on a yearly basis.

Appealing to the Aroostook County Commissioners would be the next step once a town has taken a vote, Griffin said. The Wyneses stated after the meeting that they plan to do precisely that. If the couple is not satisfied with the decision at the county level, the only other option would be to pursue the matter in court.

The couple could also hire a private contractor to remove snow during the winter.

Following the meeting, the Wyneses expressed their frustrations.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Debbie said.

Tim, who is employed in the trucking business, explained the couple fell in love with the area while visiting many years ago.

“We always loved New England,” Tim said. “We started looking for a place to relocate and began in western Maine, but eventually made our way up here. We found a spot here with an amazing view.”

The Wyneses admitted they built on the London Road with the knowledge that it was closed during the winter, but were optimistic the road would be opened once their home was built. They officially moved into their home two months ago.

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