Saturday, December 7, 2013
The Yarmouth Water District and its contractor face as much as $300,000 in fines for tearing down a 200-year-old house in North Yarmouth without getting a demolition permit or notifying the town's historical society.
Katie Murphy, president of North Yarmouth Historical Society, says the Yarmouth Water District’s recent demolition of the early-1800s Beckwith house in North Yarmouth is “infuriating.”
John Patriquin / Staff Photographer
Marvin and Ruby Beckwith bought the Cape-style house and 17 acres on Baston Road for $1,500 in 1943. The water district bought the property to protect groundwater.
North Yarmouth selectmen have hired two lawyers to help them address the fast-evolving controversy and are considering penalties that would help the historical society prevent the loss of other important buildings.
Under Maine law, the water district and Scott Dugas Trucking & Excavation of Yarmouth violated town ordinances when the vacant house at 129 Baston Road was razed on July 13, said Selectmen Chairman Steven Palmer.
"They're both responsible," Palmer said Monday. "In both cases, we know what the minimum fine would be and we know what the maximum fine would be. We're looking to go for something reasonable."
District officials have apologized and promised to make amends for the error, saying they didn't know about either requirement. They said they wanted to avoid an insurance liability and complete their plan to protect groundwater beneath the 17-acre farm they bought June 6 for $270,000 from the heirs of Marvin and Ruby Beckwith.
"What were they trying to protect (the groundwater) from and why the rush? I'd like to know," Palmer said. "And what was the potential liability? That house had stood there for about 200 years without being a threat to the aquifer or a liability to anyone."
District Superintendent Bob MacKinnon, Scott Dugas and Stephen Gorden, North Yarmouth's representative on the district's board of trustees, didn't respond to calls for comment Monday. The district serves residents in Yarmouth and North Yarmouth.
North Yarmouth's selectmen are scheduled to take up the matter on Aug. 21. They plan to seek a consent agreement that would explain the fine and possibly outline how the money will be used to further the work of the North Yarmouth Historical Society, Palmer said.
State law says that violating municipal land use regulations or doing related work without a permit carries a fine of $100 to $2,500 per day.
If the violation occurs in a resource protection area, the maximum penalty is $5,000 per day, though state law is unclear whether the larger fine applies only to shoreland zoning.
Palmer said he believes the $5,000 daily fine applies because the violations occurred within a groundwater protection area.
Palmer said the demolition started about 10 days before Dugas razed the building. During that time, a new metal roof and other building materials were salvaged or removed from the property for disposal.
So the water district's violation stretched over 45 days, for a fine of $4,500 to $225,000, Palmer said. That includes 15 days from the start of demolition to July 18, when the town's code enforcement officer issued an after-the-fact demolition permit.
It also includes the 30-day period when the historical society, if it had been notified, would have been allowed to inventory the house and possibly find a way to save it, Palmer said.
Dugas, who estimated the demolition job would cost $10,000, faces a fine of $1,500 to $75,000 for razing a building over the course of 15 days without a demolition permit, Palmer said.
North Yarmouth selectmen have hired John Lloyd and David Pierson of Eaton Peabody in Brunswick to advise them on the issue, Palmer said, because the town's usual attorney, Geoffrey Hole, had a conflict of interest related to the water district.
Selectmen likely will use some of the fine to support the historical society's efforts in a way that makes up for the loss of the Beckwith house, he said.
One idea being considered is funding an archeological dig at the Beckwith farm site to gather what's left to be learned about one of the oldest properties in town.
Another idea is to help the society identify all structures in North Yarmouth that were built before 1900, create an inventory describing each one and put plaques on the oldest among them.
"We'd like to prevent this from happening again," Palmer said.
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: