Beaver Dam Destruction Denounced
February 27, 2012 -
Shapleigh - Residents of Shapleigh are likely to remember a washout of Route 11 in early December. What they may not know, say officials, is that the damage resulted from the removal of a beaver dam, which also caused a large amount of silt and debris to flow into Mousam Lake.
The town is now taking court action against the men it believes are responsible for removing the dam on Dec. 2 – Shapleigh-based contractor Patrick Frasier and landowner William Elwell, whose primary residence is Rochester, N.H. Neither man could be reached for comment Tuesday before Reporter deadline.
Both men have appealed a notice of violation sent to them by Steven McDonough, Shapleigh’s code enforcement officer, that required each of them to pay a $5,000 fine for the destruction of the dam and to create and pay for a restoration plan.
Frasier and Elwell went before the Zoning Board of Appeals earlier this month, but the panel determined it didn’t have authority under the town’s zoning ordinances to make a decision.
Then, last week, the Board of Selectmen authorized legal action against the two men, according to McDonough. He said local attorney Durward Parkinson would be handling the court case, which has not yet been filed.
McDonough said he’d be willing to settle the matter out of court, but said so far neither Frasier nor Elwell has taken responsibility for what happened.
But it appears that Elwell is contesting that Frasier was employed by him when the destruction of the beaver dam occurred, according to a public notice announcing the Feb. 6 Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. Both men appeared before the zoning board, but were not represented by attorneys.
McDonough said the Planning Board gave Elwell approval late last year to construct a driveway into his property with access off Simon Ricker Road and that Frasier was hired to do that work.
However, the swamp where the beaver dam was located was on the far side of Elwell’s property, according to McDonough, and he’s unsure why Frasier would have taken his heavy equipment over there, much less remove the dam.
Once the dam was removed, the water level in the 20-acre swamp abutting Elwell’s land dropped between 2 and 4 feet, McDonough said. The water rushed about 3,000 feet down hill to Route 11, he said, where it washed out a section of the road and then poured into Mousam Lake.
McDonough said the Maine Department of Transportation responded to deal with damage to the road, which is under state jurisdiction, but said it’s up to the town to enforce its resource protection rules and impose fines for the damage to the lake and the swamp.
McDonough has been the code enforcement officer in Shapleigh for the past 13 years, and said the incident was the “most dramatic” violation of the town’s zoning rules he’s seen, especially in terms of the environmental damage.
“There was a lot of scouring and erosion on the hillside, environmental damage to the lake and undermining of the culvert on Route 11,” he said, which is why the town is determined to take the two men to court if no agreement is reached.
McDonough said he asked the two men to work with the Department of Transportation on any restoration plan, since damage was done to the state road.
Ted Talbot, spokesman for the transportation department, said this week that further repairs to Route 11 are scheduled for this spring, but there are no safety issues with the road or the culvert and there should be no need for road closures, even while the repair work is going on.
Talbot also said the costs are unknown at this point.
“We just don’t know yet what the actual cost of the repairs will be, and we won’t know until the project is all done,” he said.
In the meantime, McDonough said, the beavers have already started construction on a new dam in the swamp, which should ensure that water levels rise back to where they were before the old dam was destroyed.
McDonough said the town has not had any issues with Frasier or Elwell in the past, although the driveway construction exceeded what was approved and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has become involved in that issue.
While McDonough suggested he’d be willing to settle with Frasier and Elwell, he said once the case gets into the court system, he would also seek to impose attorney and filing fees in addition to the civil penalties.
Under Maine law, every municipality must have zoning rules that protect shorelands and waterways from development.
The goal behind the law is to protect water quality, wildlife habitat and wetlands and to conserve public access, natural beauty and open space, according to the state’s website.
In general, shoreland zones are divided into six districts: resource protection, limited residential, limited commercial, general development, commercial fisheries/maritime activities and stream protection.
No development or human interference is generally allowed in resource protection zones, which is where the Shapleigh beaver dam was located. However, municipalities and the DEP can issue permits for development in some of the other districts based on what is proposed.
Kate Irish Collins, Keep Maine Current, February 2012
Lakes: Mousam Lake
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