DIXFIELD – Mention the words “code enforcement officer” to a landowner and you’re likely to hear an expletives-laced litany.

“CEOs are the people everyone loves to hate because we’re the regulators who are telling people what they can and can’t do on their own land,” said Jay Bernard, code enforcement officer for Dixfield and Weld.

It’s a tough job with a high turnover rate, but, in the wake of several big land sales by timber companies, short-term, profit-driven liquidation harvesting, and wholesale development, more and more towns are turning to them for help.

Liquidation harvesting involves the purchase of a large tract of land by a timber company that then aggressively cuts the timber for profit, Bernard said.

Once the timber is stripped, the land is sold, but because it’s one big parcel, no one wants it. So the new landowner subdivides it by breaking the parcel into three or more parcels within a five-year period, he said.

Until July 2002, Maine’s subdivision law stated that 40-acre parcels or more had to go under subdivision review. But then, the Legislature amended it, making parcels of 40 acres or more exempt from going under subdivision review, Bernard said.

The problem, however, is that towns establishing ordinances, adopt state law verbatim. That’s what Dixfield did, so now the town must change its ordinance or 40-plus acre lots will remain exempt from subdivision review, Bernard said.

Thus, “because of liquidation harvesting, entire mountain ridges here that were covered with 41 acres of trees, are being stripped and developed for camps.

“These developers…also cut corners, but unfortunately the corners they’re cutting are the towns’ infrastructure,” Bernard said.

Access roads are left to minimum standards and that creates a menace to emergency response vehicles, because the woods roads are narrow and steep, and culverts and bridges are not weight rated for firetrucks, Bernard said.

“So there’s our quandary. We want companies to be profitable companies, but when they take what used to be a 100- to 3,000-acre managed lot and develop it, towns don’t have the infrastructure to grow at that rate.

“That’s happening now in 5,000-acre chunks and we’re scratching our heads about how we are going to handle this,” he added.

Large scale harvesting and growth management woes for western Maine towns like Carthage, Dixfield and Weld began in the summer of 1999 when McDonald Investment of Alabama bought 91,000 acres from the Stowell family’s Highland Lumber Co., said Dixfield Deputy Treasurer Charlotte Collins.

Highland Lumber, a subsidiary of the Stowell family’s United Timber Co., was formerly known as Timberlands Inc. As part of a bankruptcy settlement, Highland Lumber sold the lands for an undisclosed sum.

“Dixfield does have regulations currently in place to control the rate of growth. Regulations that give the municipality the opportunity to grow with development. But we never foresaw Timberlands going belly up, so we’re in a serious game of catch up,” Bernard said.

Before the big land sales in 1998 and 1999, growth meant second generation forests.

Growth now means population coming in and beautiful little houses out in the woods, he added.

“I believe it was Tom Jefferson who said a homestead on 50 acres of land was the American dream and that’s what these liquidation harvesters are providing, the American dream.

“But the one difference is that when Tom had the idea, when a farm burned down, the farm burned down. Now, people are expecting a quick response to put the fire out” and that isn’t going to happen in lots with minimally developed infrastructure, Bernard added.


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