ORRINGTON, Maine — Settlement agreements have been reached in civil lawsuits that the town brought against the owners of two properties that abut a beaver dam that burst twice since 2001, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the nearby roadway.
In filing the lawsuits in 2012, the town hoped to recover the money used to repair the road from the landowners’ insurance companies.
Instead, the town received easements from the property owners, giving the town access to the dam for the purpose of inspection and, if needed, maintenance, Town Manager Paul White said Wednesday.
A stipulation of dismissal of the lawsuit and all related claims — with prejudice and without cost — has been authorized by all of the parties involved, according to court documents.
“The issue is resolved. I’ll leave it at that,” White said of the settlement agreement and release agreements, which were discussed during a Board of Selectmen’s meeting earlier this week.
The lawsuits against Larry and Jacqueline Pelletier, who live at 10 Cemetery Lane Road, and Donna Golding, at 167 Swetts Pond Road, were filed by the town after an 80-foot beaver dam on the property owners’ land failed on March 23, 2012.
The approximately 30-foot-wide breach 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 wanted to recover the funds, and ensure steps are taken to prevent future flooding, White said at the time.
The 80-foot beaver dam also burst on May 23, 2001, causing 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 finally making 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.
Golding said Wednesday that the town claimed among other things that she was in part to blame for the breaches because she allowed vegetation that is attractive to beavers to grow on her property.
“Putting measures in place to ensure that Swetts Pond Road doesn’t wash out again, a plan that will ensure the safety of all who travel that road, should be the goal,” she said. “Playing blame games instead and choosing to initiate lawsuit claims that have no legal basis or merit whatsoever is a terrible waste of time and money.
“What has been learned is that landowners cannot be held responsible for beaver-related natural conditions,” she said. “The dismissal agreement states that next steps should include a public hearing prior to any action taken by the town.”
Golding said the wetland area attracts nature enthusiasts who would like to see the return of water levels high enough to bring back the loons and other wildlife missing since the 2012 beaver dam break.
“With input from both experts and townspeople, perhaps a solution can be found that will accomplish both that goal and the goal to ensure road safety,” she said.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Larry Pelletier added. “What’s unfortunate is that the town didn’t have to go this route. They had a selectmen’s meeting [after the lawsuit was filed during which residents spoke] against it and they should have listened to them.
“It just sounded like a losing lawsuit and it cost the town a lot of money,” he said. “I would have gladly given them permission [to access land near the dam] without the lawsuit.”
Legal costs to the town were about $23,000, according to White.
After the first breach, the town “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,” court documents filed in August 2012 and amended in December of that year stated.
The town alleged that the Pelletiers agreed to fix the problem after the 2001 flooding and filed an additional claim. The town also claimed that the Pelletiers agreed to the installation, maintenance and monitoring of a “beaver deceiver,” a device resembling a culvert that is designed to control the water level. The equipment was installed after the first breach but over the years the beavers filled the device with sticks and it eventually failed, White said earlier.
After the second breach, Larry Pelletier hired a trapper to relocate the dozen beavers that had set up home on Meadow Brook.
There currently are no beavers at the dam location, White said Wednesday.