In the words of Robert Frost, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
But in Belfast, a fence — and the trees planted around it — was the catalyst that allegedly drove an organic gardener to use a Super Soaker to stealthily spray Roundup on her neighbors’ property in the middle of the night.
The gardener in question, Emily Rogals, 53, was indicted earlier this year on a Class C charge of aggravated criminal mischief. The case is still progressing through court, Waldo County Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Noble said recently, with a dispositional conference scheduled to take place in the middle of this month.
Multiple efforts to contact Rogals or her attorney, Eric Morse of Rockland, for comment have been unsuccessful. Because the neighbors are potential victims in this case, the BDN is not naming them.
In 2017, a simmering dispute between Rogals and her High Street neighbors reportedly boiled over, at least for Rogals, according to an investigation done by the Maine Board of Pesticides Control and a report from the Belfast Police Department. It had started three years earlier, when the neighbors installed a 6-foot-tall stockade fence on the northwest side of their property, and then hired a landscaper to plant 6- to 8-foot-tall conifers and some ornamental hardwood trees and shrubs along it.
The fence and plantings were very close to the property owned by Rogals and her husband, Paul Finden. Rogals later told the pesticide inspector that the neighbors had not talked to them about planting the trees before they did so. She told the inspector that the trees shaded her driveway, causing it to ice up, and blocked the sun from her gardens.
“Rogals told the inspectors she wanted to put examples of how mean her neighbors had been to her family but it was too much to write,” the consent agreement stated.
In October 2017, the neighbors began to notice damage to their trees, grass and a shrub. They called the Maine Pesticide Board to alert them of their suspicion that Rogals and Finden had applied herbicide to their flora. The inspector came to the residence and noted that 14 of the planted conifers and a hydrangea had dead tops, or tops with die-back, with the grass near them also appearing to be dead.
“The affected trees and grass were parallel to Finden and Rogals’ driveway,” the consent agreement stated. “Other conifer and deciduous trees planted at the same time were healthy and green, as was the grass near them.”
The inspector collected samples of the soil and foliage, which did test positive for glyphosate, the herbicide in Roundup. A few weeks later, two board inspectors interviewed Rogals, asking her if she or Finden had ever purchased Roundup or a similar product to kill weeds or brush.
“Rogals responded that neither she nor her husband have ever bought or used it, since they are organic,” the consent agreement said.
But the inspectors dug further, and learned that Finden had purchased Roundup at Aubuchon Hardware Store in Belfast on several occasions in 2016 and 2017, according to store receipts. He also purchased two hand-held pressure sprayers there.
And at some point in the late summer or early fall of 2017, Rogals took action, according to the report from the Belfast Police Department. Police were not notified of the pesticide situation until June 2018, after the pesticide board inspectors had finished their investigation. Police determined that the alleged incident likely met the criteria for a criminal mischief charge.
“[Rogals] agreed to come speak with us and admitted to damaging the trees,” Deputy police Chief Gerry Lincoln said. “She said she had got up in the night and filled a Super Soaker with Roundup. Apparently she had done more damage than she anticipated.”
In fact, according to the neighbor, there was a lot of damage — an estimated $20,000 worth in total, with the high price tag the reason why the charge was elevated to aggravated criminal mischief. But that figure is in dispute, according to Noble, the county prosecutor.
Because of the unauthorized use of pesticides, the state charged Finden and Rogals a $1,500 penalty, one of the largest levied by the pesticide board in 2018.
John Jemison, a member of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, said that he has seen other instances of people using pesticides to harm someone else’s property, although it is uncommon. The state takes complaints about the misuse of pesticides seriously, he said Wednesday.
“Everybody has different levels of tolerance to the products themselves and the concept of the products,” he said. “Some people don’t want any of it. Some people say it’s just fine. But you do have to use it according to the label. If you do not, and you get caught, we will not be happy with you and you will likely not be happy with us.”
As for the criminal case against Rogals, if she is found guilty, she could face a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of as much as $5,000.
The gardener is remorseful, according to Lincoln.
“I really believe she didn’t understand how bad it was going to be,” he said. “By her statement, she just meant to retard the growth of the trees. She ended up damaging severely and killing some of them.”
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