HANOVER — Four years after a large chunk of granite in front of a Hanover couple’s home stirred up controversy over whether it should be moved, tempers flared again Tuesday when the couple attempted to have the rock removed.

Homeowners Glen and Suzanne LaForest, who live in Utah but own a home on Howard Pond Road, were scheduled Tuesday morning to remove from their property a 12- by 17-foot chunk of granite deposited by a glacier thousands of years ago. That work was stopped by neighbors who gathered near the rock to protest the work, causing the contractor to leave.

The LaForests, who own a log cabin on the shore of Howard Pond, say the boulder is too close to their garage and is a hazard to people driving by. In 2011, the Hanover Planning Board determined the rock posed a danger to drivers due to poor visibility and the fact that it sits in part of the roadway, and encouraged its removal.

The board of selectmen disagreed, though, and voted 2-1 to ban the couple from moving the rock.

According to Suzanne LaForest, she and her husband consider the boulder a safety hazard because it juts out into the road and they can’t see around it well enough to avoid pedestrians before pulling out of the driveway.

And, she said, the law of ownership is on their side.

According to the LaForests’ attorney, Mary Costigan of Bernstein Shur, while a portion of the boulder rests in the town’s right of way, established case law recognizes that the couple owns the land under that right of way “to the centerline of the road.”

As such, Costigan wrote, the LaForests own the entire boulder and are operating within the law to remove it. In a letter to the Board of Selectmen dated April 24, Costigan noted that the LaForests intended to remove the boulder some time after May 15.

According to Suzanne LaForest, she scheduled a contractor to start that work Tuesday morning, but her neighbor, Pam Puiia, parked her car in front of the boulder and other neighbors started walking by the boulder too close for the contractor to work. LaForest called the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department for help with what she defined as “protesters,” and although police told the neighbors to move along, LaForest said the contractor was too nervous to start the work in case the neighbors returned.

“I own this thing,” LaForest said of the boulder, “and I’m still fighting for it. I legally own it.”

LaForest, a trauma nurse and a retired Air Force major, called the situation sad. “I guess it’s my thanks for serving my country for 20 years. For helping people. Saving people. To deal with this nonsense is beyond words.”

She said she has known these neighbors for years after spending weeks during the summer and many winter weekends at the family’s camp.

The trouble started, LaForest said, when she and her husband decided to tear down their former camp and build a log cabin, and later added a garage.

Her neighbors became jealous, she said, of their success. “We bought this beautiful place,” LaForest said, and now she feels bullied and targeted by neighbors, especially the women in the neighborhood.

“This started because of jealous women. Sabotaging women. That’s what jealous women do,” she said. 

In 2011, when this conflict first arose, LaForest said she was willing to leave the rock and let the disagreement go. But after the couple cut several trees on their property and they started getting ugly emails from neighbors, she decided she would make her ownership of the boulder clear and remove it.

“It’s a liability. It’s a safety hazard,” she said, and when she called the Maine Department of Transportation out to assess the boulder, she was told if the road were a state road MDOT would order its removal.

Some residents, including a number of those living on Howard Pond Road, believe the rock holds sentimental value to the town, and that moving it is not necessary.

Puiia said that after the board voted in 2011 against the boulder being moved, everyone “assumed that the issue was decided, since it did not go in the homeowner’s favor.”

She added, “Recently, some of us heard that the LaForests went to a selectmen’s meeting and presented a paper stating that they owned the rock and could remove it. The board told them that the document didn’t prove that they were the owners of the rock, and after some back and forth between their lawyers, there was supposed to be a selectmen’s meeting where the board and the LaForests talked about the issue.”

However, Puiia said, on Monday evening some Howard Pond Road residents noticed that an excavator had appeared next to the rock.

“You could tell just by looking at it what it was and what it was meant to do,” Puiia said. “On Tuesday morning, an operator for the machine showed up, said he had no idea about the controversy surrounding the rock, and that he was hired to remove the rock.”

She said the contractor operated the excavator for about 30 seconds, “and after he saw a bunch of the neighbors standing near the rock and taking pictures, he said that he couldn’t work under the conditions and left the site. My opinion is that when you’re told not to do something by town officials, don’t try and do it after 5 p.m. and expect to get away with it.”

As more neighbors gathered around the rock throughout the morning and police arrived, Puiia said, “They told us that they couldn’t interfere with the rock issue since it’s a civil matter, but they also said that we couldn’t gather in the road.”

While the boulder holds sentimental value for some neighbors, Puiia said that “at this point, it’s not so much about saving the rock as it is making sure that residents don’t circumvent the law.”

Suzanne LaForest strongly disagreed with her neighbors’ interpretation, and said the town has been clearly advised on the question of ownership. “We’re paying money left and right for something that’s mine,” LaForest said, to prove ownership. “I shouldn’t have to do this. I should never have had to do this.”

But, she said, she’s been relying on her father’s advice to “stand up for what’s right, even if you stand alone.”

[email protected]

Managing Editor/Days Judith Meyer contributed to this report.


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