Knox County votes to impose tree-cutting easement on privately owned land near airport

Posted Aug. 13, 2013, at 9:36 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Knox County commissioners voted Tuesday night to impose a tree-cutting easement on the lone holdout airport neighbor.

The commissioners voted 2-0 to pay David and Carol Pollard $15,000 for the easement on their South Thomaston property.

Attorney Wayne Crandall of Rockland, who represents the Pollards, had argued before the board that the fair market value was $31,500 but that the couple were willing to accept an easement for $30,000.

Crandall said immediately after the meeting that he was unsure whether his clients would appeal the amount of money being paid to Knox County Superior Court.

At the start of the Tuesday night hearing, Knox County Regional Airport Manager Jeffrey Northgraves said the other property owners who had been contesting the amount the county was going to pay had settled. He said the prices to be paid to the other landowners are confidential until the deals are final and recorded in the registry of deeds.

The county has been working for the past four years to obtain easements on 15 properties near the airport and for which there are trees that have grown to the point that they threaten to get into the recommended flight path for aircraft using the main runway of two at the airport.

A hearing was held last month in which three property owners were contesting the tree-cutting easements. Since then the other two and a third holdout had settled for amounts greater than what the county last offered.

The county had offered Ken and Glennice Williams $8,000 for the easement on their property but the Williams had argued that the easement was worth $23,700.

Jason and Michelle Benner had been offered $10,000 but said the easement was worth $21,700.

Crandall presented a report developed by Leland Buzzell, the same appraiser used by the county in an eminent domain taking in 1992, in which he concluded that the easement would reduce a person’s property value by 20 percent. That property was located next to the Pollards, Crandall said.

Northgraves said that this was not a fair comparison because in 1992 the easement was not simply for cutting trees. A hazard easement was needed because the flight path had changed and was directly over that property.

The attorney said that his clients’ property was being impacted by more than tree cutting.

“You have planes flying 20 feet over their property in the fog,” he said.

The airport manager disputed that claim, saying the lowest planes would fly over the Pollards’ home would be 50 feet and that would be in clear weather. He said in fog that the planes would be 200 to 250 feet above the property. Northgraves also stressed that the flight path is not being changed and the planes have been flying over the Pollards’ property for 20 years.

The tree cutting is not expected to begin until next year.

The Federal Aviation Administration will reimburse Knox County for the costs of the easements but only up to an amount that the federal agency considers to be fair market value, Northgraves said. If the county pays more than that amount, Knox County would be responsible for the additional expenses.

Chairwoman Carol Maines and Commissioner Roger Moody voted for the imposition of the easement. Commissioner Richard Parent Jr. abstained because he did not arrive until testimony given Tuesday night had been completed.

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