Legislative Update from Maine ROADWays (Residents & Owners on Abandoned & Discontinued Ways):
A Legislative Subcommittee on Discontinued Roads is trying to figure out how to solve some of the problems of discontinued roads which are retained as "public easements." These roads often become problematic because they were in disrepair when they were discontinued, and the public then gave up all obligation to repair them, yet the public is still allowed to use these roads without restriction. Most Road Associations will not be affected by this situation, but there are some cases where a road association is struggling to maintain a discontinued road that remains a public easement.
Unlike most road association roads, which tend to be dead ends, many of these are (or were) through roads, and still appear on GPS as being viable shortcuts. Many provide access to large tracts of land which may attract hunters and other recreational uses. Many are subject to logging operations which put a tremendous burden on the condition of the road. Yet often the burden for keeping the road passable falls to those who need the road the most, that is, one or more residents who have no other access. The Subcommittee is working with various stakeholders including Maine ROADWays to try to give residents and landowners on these roads some relief.
We had our second Subcommittee meeting on Oct 26th, 2021. Everyone agrees that there's a problem, but finding a solution is a stickler. They have asked the various stakeholders to meet during November and see if we can possibly find anything we can agree on. Wish us luck! There is some hope - we got some legislation passed once before after a similar effort.
Any ideas out there for possible remedies? The more we brainstorm on this, the better chance we'll find some way to at least reduce the problem.
One suggestion was better public education so people understand they can't just run roughshod over public easements without regard for the landowners who need them for access. It could also help if we can educate law enforcement officers as to what they CAN do to help.
Another suggestion that Maine Municipal Association has made in the past is to get the State to provide some sort of assistance funding to help repair roads that are needed for access.
Yet another suggestion was to build a trail for ATV's/snowmobiles alongside the vehicular road surface so the two don't interfere with each other.
It's unlikely we will get a grand solution that satisfies everyone, but we ARE making slow progress by chipping away at the edges. For example, we now have the real estate Disclosure laws requiring letting the buyer know if the access to property is not maintained by the public; we have the laws about damage to a public easement (although we still need to find a way to make these actually work); we have the option of allowing landowners to grant each other private access so as to extinguish the public easement on a discontinued road; and there is the brand new revision of the abandonment statute, providing much better due process and restricting the resulting public easement to use by foot or motor vehicle (excluding ATV's and log skidders.) Now we need to find the next step.