March 20, 2023

Chesuncook roads open for traffic County commissioners seek to quell street dispute

CHESUNCOOK VILLAGE – Until a dispute over the location of Main Street in remote Chesuncook Village is settled in court, all roads are to remain open per order of the Piscataquis County commissioners.

That directive came after disgruntled residents recently blocked the new county road with some junked vehicles.

The road issue has been festering since 2005 when David Surprenant, owner of the Chesuncook Lake House, claimed a portion of the county road was built on land he owned. Surprenant said he found the mistake in the property lines while researching his deed, so he temporarily blocked access to the road because it was on his property.

But when the commissioners approved the move late last fall of about 20 feet of Main Street from Surprenant’s land to the north onto the actual roadbed identified in a county survey, members of the camp owners association weren’t happy. They said it affected a gravel pit they had used for years.

After an association meeting earlier this month, they blocked the new road in protest.

Fed up with the bickering, the commissioners recently ordered the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department to let residents know of the county officials’ decision to keep all roads open in this picturesque community, which is accessible only by boat, floatplane, or a 4-mile overland hike.

On Friday, Lt. Robert Young of the sheriff’s department traveled to the hamlet, where he posted notices of the commissioners’ order. All property owners will receive a copy of the notice in the mail.

“Anyone found violating the order will be prosecuted,” Piscataquis County Sheriff John Goggin said Monday.

Located about 50 miles north of Greenville, the community has a year-round population of 10, which in the summer can swell to 100. Because it is unorganized territory, the commissioners are the governing body.

Because Surprenant is directly involved in the dispute, the commissioners have relieved him of his duties as road agent.

“I think they [the commissioners] have done the right thing all along,” Surprenant said Monday. He said he had offered to resign as road agent last year but was told it was not necessary.

The road issue first surfaced after Surprenant discovered that one of the three housekeeping cabins he had constructed violated state law because it was within 75 feet of the county road. Researching his deed, he found an error in the location of the road.

Other than moving the disputed cabin, which has a foundation, Surprenant’s only solution was moving the road.

Surprenant is negotiating the sale of land from the Department of Conservation, but the purchase has nothing to do with the road issue despite local rumors.

Ralph Knoll of the Department of Conservation confirmed Monday that the state plans to sell Surprenant 2.2 acres of state-owned land in the village. The land to be sold is pasture land that Surprenant has leased from the state for several years, Knoll said.

When Surprenant learned of the mistake in the property lines, he blocked access of Main Street, a move that raised the ire of those who used it. A gate he installed over the road was cut by vandals.

The commissioners approved the relocation of a portion of the road when a survey they commissioned agreed with Surprenant’s. The work was done by Surprenant as road agent last fall.

That work spurred a lawsuit filed by Bruce Bailey, one of the abutting landowners.

Bailey claimed that the “retracement survey” that Surprenant had performed depicted Main Street as laid out in a 1922 subdivision plan, but Main Street did not exist at that time. He claims that the former road was the legal road because it had been used for more than 50 years.

A judge granted Bailey’s request for an order to prohibit further reconstruction of the controversial road – even though the project was completed.

In recent weeks, however, Surprenant said members of the camp owners association had blocked a section of the new Main Street, which caused another uproar from local residents. Surprenant said he had filmed the association members as they blocked the new road.

For now, the commissioners hope the directive will bring some peace until Bailey’s lawsuit is heard in December in Piscataquis County Superior Court.

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