FORT KENT, Maine — Multiple West Main Street businesses are at risk of losing revenue during snowmobile season after a property owner placed a barricade on his land forbidding access to snowmobilers heading for the downtown area.
Jim Bouchard, owner of JBBC Inc., placed an orange plastic barrier on Thursday across the land that was the only access point snowmobilers had from the levee trail connector off the ITS 85 trail to West Main Street.
Several businesses including multiple restaurants, a gas station, tavern, motel and a variety of others are on West Main Street.
Bouchard owns the vacant lot on the street where snowmobilers would cross after riding along the Fort Kent levee next to the St. John River.
Bouchard declined to comment on his reason for suddenly withdrawing snowmobile access to the property.
One town official said he spoke with Bouchard, who did not provide a detailed reason for blocking snowmobile access, but said it was something between him and Circle K/Irving. That store is located directly across West Main Street from Bouchard’s lot.
Fort Kent Town Manager Suzie Paradis said Bouchard’s decision could affect the local economy negatively. But Paradis and other town officials are brainstorming to find a solution to the problem.
“Snowmobiling is the economic drive for winter for these businesses. If we don’t have the proper access, snowmobilers can easily bypass us,” Paradis said. “We’re working on a plan B and hoping to have this resolved by the end of the week.”
One possibility is for Fort Kent Director of Public Works Tony Theriault to install a ramp just west of the Bouchard property between the International Bridge and First Mile Monument. That area is too steep for snowmobilers to navigate without one.
Fort Kent Fire Chief Ed Endee, who is also co-owner of the Swamp Buck restaurant on West Main Street, said he was “highly upset” by Bouchard’s decision to block snowmobile access.
“I don’t think one business owner should be able to cripple other business owners through one selfish act,” he said. “It would have been nice if he would have given us a little bit of notice so we would have had time to figure something out. To do it without any notice was particularly distasteful.”
Endee pointed out that other businesses located southeast of Swamp Buck also could be affected by the move, including Al’s Tastee Freeze located on Hall Street.
“People park [their snowmobiles] in our parking lot to go to Al’s which is fine — we encourage it,” he said.
Northern Door Inn manager Carl Pelletier said that despite a rumor being shared on Facebook, the motel has yet to lose business due to the loss of the access route.
“We have had no cancellations,” he said.
But several snowmobilers visiting the motel over the weekend expressed their dissatisfaction with having to trailer their snowmobiles to another location in order to access the trails.
Pelletier said he is encouraged that the town is taking action to find an alternative access point for snowmobilers.
Fort Kent SnoRiders Club president Jim Rioux said there are other areas along the levee snowmobilers can use, but Paradis disagreed.
She said that there are only two sections along the levee authorized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for snowmobile access. The levee, which was built to protect the town from flooding, is overseen by the Corps — the only group authorized to approve access points for snowmobiles along the structure.
Utilizing unauthorized points along the levee will jeopardize the structure’s integrity and the town could face penalties because the levee was constructed using federal grant money, she said.
The other location along the levee that might work for snowmobile access is near Andy’s Auto farther east along Main Street, although landowner permissions have not been obtained in that area for snowmobile access.
Fort Kent Police Chief Tom Pelletier said that Bouchard notified the department that anyone riding snowmobiles on his property will be considered to be trespassing.
Town officials have fielded numerous complaints and concerns about the situation over the past few days.
“This is not the doing of the town. This is the decision of one landowner,” Chief Pelletier said.