Many of us who enjoy the woods and waters of Maine access them on discontinued and abandoned roads. And for several years, the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine has been trying to improve the laws governing discontinued roads.
In the early 1980s, when I served as a Selectman in Mount Vernon, we researched all of our discontinued and abandoned roads, and built a list of them, so the public would know when and where they are. If the proper process was followed by a town, the discontinued roads remained open for public access. I discovered that one discontinued road near my home had been gated by out-of-staters who owned the land on both sides.
There have been many problems with discontinued roads over the years, and I am grateful to SWOAM for its work on this important issue. Here is a report from SWOAM’s executive director Tom Doak, published in the June issue of Maine Woodlands, SWOAM’s monthly newsletter. I encourage you to contact officials in your town, and get involved in building the inventory and staus of discontinued roads that is required by the new law.
LD 1325, Discontinued and abandoned roads. Sponsored on behalf of SWOAM by Rep. Catherine Nadeau, the bill, as amended, requires a full public process whenever a road is discontinued, including notification to abutting property owners; a meeting of municipal officers to discuss the proposed discontinuance, a statement whether a public easement across the road is being retained, a public hearing approval by the municipal legislative body; and filing a certificate in the Registry of Deeds.
It also directs municipalities to file any known past discontinuances in the registry. It retains the presumption that abandonment exists if a municipality fails to keep a way passable for motor vehicles for 30 or more years. It requests that municipalities develop a full inventory of all existing and former municipal roads, with their status, including whether a public easement exists, and submit the inventory to the Maine DOT, which must report to the Legislature on municipal inventories by Nov. 1, 2018.
The bill also allows landowners abutting Short Session Long on Important Issues a discontinued or abandoned road where a public easement is retained to bring a civil action against any person who damages the road. In addition to other penalties, a court is authorized to order offenders to restore the road and pay the landowner’s legal fees.
We strongly supported this bill and, with the help of many legislators, received overwhelming support, including enactment and overriding the governor’s veto. This is the first major change, and improvement, to the relevant statutes in 40 years.