May 27, 2018
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Hodgdon couple appealing road closure to access home this winter

By Joseph Cyr, Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — A Hodgdon couple has asked the Aroostook County Commissioners to revoke a town-ordered road closure so that they can access their home this winter.

At a special hearing Sept. 25, Deb and Tim Wynes presented their case to the commissioners, hoping to reverse a decision made at a special Hodgdon town meeting back on June 24. At that town meeting, residents of Hodgdon voted 73 in favor and 17 opposed to closing London Road, where the Wyneses live, to winter maintenance. The road was one of 10 that townspeople were asked to cast a ballot on during the special meeting. All 10 were recommended for closure in the winter by the townspeople as a way to save money.

Hodgdon Town Manager Jim Griffin has said that in order for 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. London Road is also not currently a part of the town’s five-year improvement plan.

Griffin and the Wyneses were the only ones to offer testimony at the Sept. 25 hearing.

Three years ago, the Wyneses began building their home at 126 London Road with the idea of permanently moving to Hodgdon. Even though the couple knew the road was closed to winter plowing, they hoped that once their house was constructed, the town would be willing to work with them to get their road cleared in the winter.

Griffin said the town has, in the past, opened a road previously closed in the winter, provided it was only for a short distance, but that is not the case for the Wyneses’ home. Their home is 6/10th of a mile away from where the town stops plowing.

“Where the town stands is, the town has the authority by Maine law, to close roads for winter maintenance,” Griffin said. “It’s been done for years. These roads have never had any maintenance done to them, so they are closed in the winter due to cost.”

Griffin stressed at no time did he or any member of the Hodgdon Board of Selectmen tell the Wyneses that their road would be opened once their home was finished. He also stated the town followed all the necessary steps in closing a road by advertising and holding a public hearing prior to the special town meeting.

Griffin added he could not give permission to the Wyneses to have the road plowed through a private organization because that would then put the town on the hook for liability issues. He said he could, however, choose to ignore the request.

Commissioner Paul Underwood stated he thought it was against the law for a private citizen to plow a public road, even if that road has been closed.

The Wyneses reiterated they simply wanted to be able to stay in their home this coming winter and pleaded with the commissioners for their help.

County Administrator Doug Beaulieu stressed it was the role of the commissioners to take out the emotional side of the discussion.

“When the commissioners look at a situation like this, they are looking at it with the statute in mind,” Beaulieu said. “The commissioners almost have to look at it with blinders. There is certainly some emotion, but the commissioners have to separate that. Their authority is somewhat limited.”

A written verdict is expected on the matter within 30 days.

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