Commissioners deny Hodgdon couple’s appeal to not close town road in winter

10 months ago

CARIBOU, Maine — Aroostook County Commissioners sided with Hodgdon town officials’ decision to close a small section of London Road when the board met Wednesday at Aroostook Superior Court in Caribou.

Hodgdon residents Timothy and Deborah Wynes requested in August that the commissioners reverse town residents’ vote to close a .6-mile section of the road from November to April due to safety concerns. That vote occurred during the town’s annual meeting on June 14.

The couple first purchased property at 126 London Road in 2002 and were told that the town could consider keeping the .6-mile section of the road open during winter if more development occurred. The couple used their house as a summer home until 2013, when they began living there from May through November, said Deborah Wynes, in a written statement.

In their appeal, the Wyneses claimed that Hodgdon officials exaggerated the potential costs for repair work and winter plowing on London Road. The town renewed their snow plowing contract for $5,400 per mile in August but did not include the London Road, which the Select Board claimed would cost $13,500 per mile.

The Wyneses and their lawyer Stephen Wagner of Rudman-Winchell argued that state statute requires towns to keep roads open and repaired in the winter unless “population, use and travel” plays a role in the consideration to close certain roads.

Hodgdon officials argued that the .6-mile section of London Road passes through a steep slope of Westford Hill. Most of the road is barren and exposed, making it prone to high wind gusts during winter months and dangerous for travelers, they said.

Town officials also said that most landowners on London Road, including the Wyneses, do not live full time at their homes in the winter and use other roads to access their houses if needed.

All three commissioners sided with the town, as they did in 2013 when the Wyneses first appealed the town’s choice to close London Road. Their decision follows an appeal hearing in August in which they heard from 11 witnesses from both sides.

“Based on what I heard from witnesses, the town considered population, use and travel, as outlined in the state statute,” said Commissioner Norman Fournier. “I got the impression from all witnesses, including the Wyneses, that cost should be considered.”

In other business, commissioners unanimously approved spending $7,500 to hire Laurie Bouchard of Jefferson to conduct a compensation and benefits study.

The county last reviewed its compensation and benefits package for non-union employees in 2016. Since then, it has become more difficult to attract and retain employees, said Human Resources Director Christina Theriault.

Commissioners also approved hiring four new county employees Wednesday. Shawn Howe will work in maintenance at the county’s Houlton buildings and has 14 years experience in maintenance and construction.

After a 30-year career in law enforcement, John Verno of Reading, Pennsylvania, will become a victim witness advocate for the Aroostook County District Attorney’s office in Caribou.

Benjamin Wipperman was promoted from a part-time to full-time corrections officer for Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office. Kenneth Spittle was promoted from dispatcher to dispatch supervisor for the Sheriff’s Office.

Commissioners approved three-year fire protection agreements with Mars Hill and Oakfield. 

Mars Hill Fire Department agreed to cover E. Plantation for a 5-percent cost increase each year. The total cost will be $3,201 for fiscal year 2023-24, $3,361 for 2024-25 and $3,259 for 2025-26.

Oakfield agreed to provide coverage for unorganized townships T7R3, T7R4 and T7R5 for a 3-percent increase in yearly costs. The town will pay $937 in fiscal year 2023-24, $965 in 2024-25 and $994 in 2025-26.

Commissioners approved transferring $147,706 to cover a fund balance deficit for the county jail fund. 

“The jail fund surplus balance as of last year is $199,564. Once the current year’s deficit of $267,270 is applied, there will be a deficit in the fund balance of $147,706, said County Finance Director Dana Gendreau.

The next County Commissioners meeting will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, in Sinclair at the town’s Senior Center. Commissioners will meet at 12:30 p.m. to tour the site of Sinclair’s future new fire station.