posted on June 15, 2015 14:27
By Tom Doak, Executive Director
We’ve made discontinued and abandoned roads a real focus of our legislative efforts. The laws dealing with these roads are a complete mess, and failure to deal with them in any meaningful way for 40 years has just made the problems worse. We have two bills in play.
One would make it a crime to damage a public easement across a discontinued or abandoned road. It received a strong committee endorsement and has been enacted. It would help curb the most egregious damage where a landowner who needs to use the
public easement to access his or her land maintains the road, only to have others tear it up. The landowner is left to fix the damage, and costs can be steep. Our bill would make it possible for any law enforcement officer to summons a person damaging such a road. This bill is now in the Governor’s hands.
Our second roads bill gets at the heart of the ongoing problem of the status of old roads by assuring there is a public process when discontinuing a road, and also creating a permanent record. This may sound odd, but there’s no public process required when a road is abandoned, and no requirement to record the actions of a municipality when discontinuing or abandoning a road. Most municipalities cannot accurately identify the status of old roads, or say with certainty whether a pubic easement exists or not. We had excellent support from the State and Local Government Committee, with a majority clearly understanding things are broken. However, municipalities, through the Maine Municipal Association (MMA), aren’t particularly keen on making changes. We made some headway in discussions, but because any meaningful changes, such as requiring a public process or providing a permanent record, are considered a “mandate” on a municipality, under the Maine Constitution two-thirds of House and Senate must agree to enact changes – or the state must fund any costs. This is a powerful tool, and it’s often easier to defeat a measure than to pass one. To enact a law, you have to prevail at each step, through multiple votes. That process is deliberative, to avoid snap decisions. And when all that is required is onethird of either House or Senate to block action, the job is even more difficult. This provision is in part why change is so difficult regarding old roads. Still, we have had frank, constructive conversations with MMA, and they know the issues won’t go away. The Legislature has agreed to hold the bill over to next year to see if further progress can be made. If you are affected by a discontinued or abandoned road, we will definitely need your help if we’re going to be able to enact changes to fix these terrible problems. This may involve contacting your legislators and town officials urging them to support reasonable fixes