Two years ago, after decades of plowing snow on Lowell Road, near Bonny Eagle Pond in Buxton, the town halted the service on the 1,00-foot, unpaved end.

The town claims that portion of Lowell Road is a private way. Lowell Road is off Route 22 and a paved portion of it was accepted by the town a few years ago to serve a new development. The town halted plowing the dirt part of Lowell Road in 2006, leaving several residents to pay a contractor to plow.

Those residents argue that the whole road is public and that, in a tough winter such as this one, they are being put in jeopardy. And now, a group of residents have contacted their legislative delegation in search of a solution.

“We are being discriminated against,” said Elvira Ridlon, who, with her husband, Wes, hosted a neighborhood meeting last week to talk about the issue.

Jean Harmon, chairwoman of the board of selectmen, said Monday that the state determined several years ago that municipalities couldn’t spend public money to plow private roads.

“Within the last two years, we needed to discontinue this practice, even though we had been doing it for years,” Harmon said. “For those people on private roads, it has been a difficult past two winters for them.”

Sharon Elwell, a retired road commissioner who was first elected in 1972, said the town policy in the past had been to plow the private roads and grade them twice during each year. “They’ve stopped it and I don’t think it’s right,” Elwell said. “I’m upset with the town.”

Wes Ridlon, 75, a former Cumberland County sheriff and a long-time property owner on Lowell Road, said the town is hiding behind the state statute. He believes the entire road belongs to the town. Ridlon said the road was once called the Groves Road and it continued into Standish.

“There’s nothing in our deed that says we own any part of this road,” said Ridlon, who has owned property there with his wife since 1972.

Last week, at the gathering of residents sitting around the Ridlons’ table, it was pointed out that cable TV service and trash pickup are indicators it has been a town road.

“I couldn’t get a mortgage if it wasn’t a town road,” Robin Thurston said.

Ellen Frizzell, who lives on Charlie’s Lane off Lowell Road, pointed out the area also had a fire hydrant, but the town’s fire department removed it in November of 2006.

Ridlon said Groves Road had been a county road given to the town. He said property along Lowell Road was divided into camp lots in the 1930s.

Gail Savage knows the road’s history and has lived on Lowell Road since 1968. Her husband’s family built there in 1940. Savage said a former town road commissioner, Harry Roberts, began plowing snow on the road in 1969.

Elwell continued to plow the entire Lowell Road and sanded it until he retired three years ago. After he retired, Buxton voters approved a measure for selectmen to appoint a director of public works, replacing the road commissioner post.

Ridlon feels snowplowing on the road should be grandfathered. He said residents along the road 10 years ago signed an agreement with a clause holding the town harmless in the event of any damage during plowing.

Town officials see the issue differently.

“It isn’t a town road. We have no record that it was ever accepted,” Harmon said.

Selectman Cliff Emery said he was on the board when selectmen believed they had the right to accept easements from residents to plow private roads. “We thought the board could accept easements and we kept plowing,” Emery said.

But, Emery said, town attorneys later determined the selectmen didn’t have that right and easements were considered invalid. Emery also said the town received a letter from its insurance carrier saying the town had no right to plow a private road.

Two years ago, Emery sought a way to allow the town to continue plowing the road. He advocated a measure that could have been voted on at the annual town meeting, if all property owners on Lowell Road signed an easement.

But, according to the Lowell Road group, one summer resident didn’t sign.

“They didn’t fall into the 100 percent criteria,” Emery said, and so the measure did not reach the town meeting.

Harmon said the town in the past had contracted to plow the town’s private roads because town trucks were too big for narrow roads. It was costing taxpayers $30,000 a year, she said.

Rep. David Farrington, responding to an inquiry last week from the Ridlons, said that through research he’s done, “it seems to me the town’s position is questionable.” He said he wanted to meet with Sen. Barry Hobbins, Rep. Don Marean and “someone from the state who can clarify some of the legal issues.”

Meanwhile, snowplowing falls on the Lowell Road residents. They have an informal association and Judy Hall is treasurer. Hall said Bill Kowalski of Kowalski Excavating Inc., of Buxton plows for the association. Hall said the bill was $180 for the first two weeks of December.

“It’s not a big expense for the town to plow this road,” said Lowell Road resident Jan Biddle.

Cutline (BUX road 1)n Thurston.


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