MASON TOWNSHIP — Oxford County commissioners said Tuesday that they have no plans to maintain Tyler Road, which was taken by eminent domain in 2011 after a prolonged dispute over its ownership.
The county had approved road improvements because the U.S. Forest Service had purchased land farther down the road for timber sales. Logging trucks would be unable to get down the road, which was too narrow in places and partially washed out.
With road improvements by the U.S. Forest Service completed, County Administrator Scott Cole questioned the commission on its future upkeep plans Tuesday. He said that while the road is closed in the winter, he expected there would be occasional ditching and grading on the road to stop it from eroding again.
Chairman David Duguay said he didn't think there was a need, and that it had taken the road a very long time to degrade to its condition before the U.S. Forest Service made repairs. “If history repeats itself, it will be another 30 years before we have to put anything into it,” he said.
Commissioner Caldwell Jackson agreed. “I don't feel like we should put any maintenance in there,” he said. He said he was concerned that if the county maintained it in the summer months, residents of the road might start asking for winter maintenance, which is expensive.
Duguay said that besides that, the whole case started because residents on the road were opposed to improvements.
“I think there's an understanding that if there's a problem on the road, that we're going to take care of it,” Cole said. He asked the commission why they had even bothered taking the road by eminent domain if they weren't going to maintain it. He said he thought maintenance was implicit in the eminent domain action.
Jackson said the only intent was to let the Forest Service repair the road for timber harvesting. All three commissioners agreed that the county had responsibility to repair major road damage that made it impassable, but that it shouldn't be filling potholes.
“With all due respect, it doesn't make any sense,” Cole said. He said regular maintenance could stave off bigger, more expensive problems on the road.
The taking was the end of a long dispute with two landowners, who said the county had long ago abandoned Tyler Road, and that improvements on the portion running through their property was an infringement of their property rights. They maintained that the county hadn't maintained the road in 30 years and that it had become private property. They allowed others to use it as a right of way, but opposed improvements to the road.
The county paid landowners Celina Adams and Cameron Wake about $5,000 for the 1.5-mile section running through their property, as well as $5,000 to drop the lawsuit, and other landowners were paid a total of $15,000. Including legal and survey costs, the county paid about $57,000 to take over the road. In the settlement agreement, the county agreed to limit the width of the road to 14 feet, plus two turnouts.