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Freedom Selectman Steve Bennett is no stranger to hearing complaints about the town’s dirt roads in mud season.
This year, though, the roads have seemed muddier and tempers more frayed than usual. At last Monday’s regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen, nearly 20 residents spoke up, sometimes angrily, about their safety concerns over nearly impassable roads.
Mud season in Maine, sometimes called the state’s “fifth season,” generally occurs between March and late April or early May. It happens when the snow and ice start melting. All that extra water leads to a lot of mud.
This year, the long freeze-thaw cycle that has dogged a wide swath of the state seems to have hit roads harder than usual. Paved roads have sprouted a bumper crop of potholes, and dirt roads are no better. The mud is deep, the texture often seems more like Jello than hardpan and the damage it can do to your car or your peace of mind is real.
“I think the roads this year are worse. I think everybody would agree,” Bennett said. “We’ve been trying to keep up with it, but not everybody is satisfied, obviously.”
At the meeting, he and other officials heard from a day care owner whose business is taking a hit because parents are afraid they will get stuck while dropping off and picking up their children. They also heard from a resident who was upset about a car that got stuck in a muddy road, according to the Republican Journal.
“We had annual town meeting a couple of weeks ago. It was one of the fastest town meetings on record,” Bennett said. “Then we go to Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting and all hell broke loose. I know what it is to go over these roads and to have to try to traverse all these deep ruts … You just have to be right on top of it. I know we can always do a better job, so we’ll keep trying.”
Mainers have been contending with muddy roads in the spring likely for as long as they’ve driven vehicles. Bennett recently described a photo from the 1940s that showed the set-up that a clever local postman used to ensure he could deliver the mail in mud season. Pem Carter, who delivered the mail in Freedom for 45 years, fitted out his Model A Ford with airplane tires — so big they would, one presumes, skim over the muddy roads instead of getting bogged down in them.
In the town of Waldo, the sloppy roads recently proved irresistible to the driver of a pickup truck who evidently treated the East Waldo Road as if it was a true mud run. The driver went fast and spun his wheels, apparently intentionally, according to longtime First Selectman Kathy Littlefield.
“The road commissioner checked it out the next day. There were really big ruts in the road,” she said. “I’m not going to invest money in a road if a truck is going to come tear them all up. Jeepers creepers.”
Distressed neighbors reported the incident to authorities, and police were called to look into the matter of the destructive driver, she said. That person’s actions did not help the state of the road, well-known among locals as being difficult to navigate during mud season. But the East Waldo Road is not unique in the town.
“It’s not only that road. This year has been a very unique year, shall we say, because there’s a tremendous amount of water in the roads,” she said. “It doesn’t do the roads a lot of good when that happens. We’ve had trouble.”
Littlefield, who lives on a dirt road herself, needed a lot of adjectives to describe the state of the town’s roads during a freeze-thaw spell last weekend.
“They got kind of rutty. Not real deep ruts at first,” she said. “Then they got slimy. When they thawed the next morning, the bottom fell out of the roads, almost. They were really bad.”
She has heard of cars getting stuck in the roads this year, and did call the RSU 3 central office to let school bus drivers know that the mud is a problem.
Littlefield said that if she ever won the lottery, she’d like to have the roads in her town paved. Doing that right is an expensive and fairly complicated enterprise.
“It’s not just a matter of putting a nice grade on the road and in the summer having a grading company come in and put on hot top,” she said. “When you decide to reconstruct a gravel road, it’s very costly. It has to be done right. And then they’re wonderful.”
But for now, folks in her town are coping with the roads as they are. The town has been hauling in loads of stone to try to stiffen the muddy roads up, and it seems to be helping, she said.
“You have to have that knack of driving in the mud,” she said. “People in Waldo are very understanding. They try to make do.”