Strathglass Park improvement plans stymied over ownership issue

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RUMFORD — Tentative plans to revitalize Strathglass Park along Hancock Street remain stonewalled until municipal officials determine ownership of a rock wall lining that side.

Also called into question is ownership of the strip of land on either side of the wall from Maine Avenue north to the Strathglass Park walkway.

Early Tuesday afternoon, Town Manager Carlo Puiia said he’d found a 1949 lease for the walled, 110-year-old neighborhood of brick duplexes, single-family homes and apartments.

While it doesn’t specifically state the town owns the strips of land between the park walls and bordering streets, Puiia said he thinks it may be town property. To be sure, he said he’d have the town lawyer review it.

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The matter came up during an update on the park Thursday night by Phil Blampied of the Strathglass Park Preservation Society.

Blampied prefaced his presentation, saying selectmen OK’d the society’s work last year to repair the park wall from the gate to York Avenue.

“Now, we’d like to tackle the wall on the Hancock Street side, which looks terrible,” he said. He gave selectmen and Puiia handouts with photographs of it and suggested remedies.

Blampied said “weed” trees, brush and an old fence lean over the rock wall, saplings grow into overhead power lines, and large tree stumps are rotting on the road shoulder between the wall and Hancock Street.

The stumps are from several old trees that Central Maine Power Co. felled in 2010. Selectmen then voted 4-1 in August 2010 to leave them there after lone dissenter Selectman Jeremy Volkernick lobbied to remove them.

Which is why Volkernick told Blampied Thursday night, “If you’re removing the stumps, I’m all for this.”

Listing the society’s short-term remedy, Blampied said that pending cooperation of property owners, the vegetation would be trimmed back, saplings and stumps removed and a sound-barrier plank fence installed from Maine Avenue to the walkway on the park side of the stonewall.

He estimated the cost to complete the work and install the 4-foot high fence at $4,000 and told the board the society would conduct fundraising and take responsibility. Blampied then sought the board’s approval.

Volkernick and Selectmen Jolene Lovejoy and Chairman Greg Buccina thanked Blampied for his work, and then wanted to know who owns the rock wall and strip of land in question.

Buccina asked who will maintain the fence and Blampied suggested the Rumford Parks and Recreation Department.

Blampied again sought permission to begin work on the project, but was stymied.

“My interest is to find out who has the ownership of that property,” Buccina said. “That would be our first move. I will support you going forward without committing any finances.”

“Oh, I’m not asking for money,” Blampied said. “The wall is either a public commons or it’s owned by the town.”

Town Manager Puiia asked the board members if they wanted a legal review. Buccina said yes.

Flummoxed, Blampied said the board already acted like the town owns the property when they OK’d society work last year on the wall along the gate to York Avenue.

Seeking legal review is prudent, especially where some finance is involved and responsibility, Buccina said.

“I think you’re opening a can of worms,” Blampied said before leaving in frustration a short while later when it became apparent that his proposal was going nowhere.

“All this work would have been done for free for the town,” Blampied said by email after the meeting.

“They nitpicked it to death, and I’m done. It would have cost the town nothing. It looks as though they’ve managed to kill a $4,000 gift to the town, which would have greatly improved the look of one of our major corridors.”

On Tuesday, he clarified, saying, “The idea of the project is still out there if anyone can figure out who to get to do it, but the offer to do it for the town at no cost or commitment — other than eventual maintenance — is gone.”

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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