The Yarmouth Water District is offering an apology and $4,000 for tearing down an old house in North Yarmouth without a permit, but the settlement proposal is getting a cool reception.

“The legal machine has started,” said Steve Palmer, head of the North Yarmouth Board of Selectmen, suggesting the town would be just as happy seeing a fine handed down by the court as a negotiated settlement.

Town officials have said they believe the water district could face as much as $300,000 in fines over the incident.

Palmer said Thursday that he didn’t want to speak for the rest of the selectmen before they have had a chance to discuss the proposal, which would settle a dispute over the demolition of the house on Baston Road.

The board isn’t likely to talk about the proposal before next month, he said.

After the owner of the home died, the water district in June bought the house and 17 acres adjacent to three of the district’s wells. The district was concerned that the property would be developed into house lots, with oil tanks and septic systems threatening the water quality in the wells.

The district razed the house in July, out of concern about potential liability for injuries in the building after the property is opened to the public for passive recreation.

District officials said they didn’t know that they needed a demolition permit from the town and had to give the North Yarmouth Historical Society 30 days’ notice and a chance to comment on the demolition plan.

William Reinsborough, chairman of the water district’s board, sent a letter to the selectmen with a six-page narrative of how the district obtained the property, why it decided to tear down the house, and its settlement proposal, which includes allowing the historical society to do an archaeological dig and a promise of better communication between the district and the town.

“The district made an inadvertent mistake here,” Reinsborough’s letter says.

Katie Murphy, president of the historical society, said the house that was torn down dated back at least to 1845, according to town records, and was likely about 200 years old.

“It’s a classic center-chimney Cape, Greek revival, post-and-beam,” she said. “This is a house that had good bones.”

Even if it had been notified, Murphy said, the society would have been powerless to stop the demolition. But it could have looked for parts to salvage, she said, and would have documented the house with photos and measurements.

The society might even have found a buyer who would move the house to a new site, she said.

“What we don’t understand was why they had to rush, rush, rush and knock it down,” Murphy said.

She said the society would like the water district to come up with more money, possibly enough to hire an intern to gather data on other historical structures and perhaps even install a smartphone application to allow visitors to swipe a barcode outside of an old house and call up information about it.

Reinsborough said the district understands it was wrong and wants to rectify the mistake, but any fines are likely to come from the ratepayers, including the town and residents of North Yarmouth.

“We’re trying to stop the bleeding” with the settlement proposal, he said.

Reinsborough noted the substantial difference between the offer — $2,500 in lieu of a fine, plus $1,500 for North Yarmouth’s legal fees — and the town’s belief that fines could total $300,000.

“There’s obviously room for negotiation,” he said. “We’re just trying to mend fences and make it realistic.”


Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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