Statutes

INDEX TO MAINE ROAD LAW: ABANDONED OR DISCONTINUED ROADS
While this is not a comprehensive list of Maine road statutes, you should find most of the ones you need here.  Be sure to check with the Legislative and Reference Library in Augusta for any updates, or for related laws that may not be included here.  For now, I've listed them pretty much in numerical order, but I'm not sure if that's the most useful arrangement.  Alphabetical listing is only helpful if you know what you're looking for by name.  Fortunately, I was able to group them in a way that I hope makes the list short enough to scan for what you need.  I'd welcome any suggestions on how to make this index more user- friendly!

Title 14 Adverse Possession

Title 17 Damage to a Public Easement

Title 23 State Highway Law

Title 23 County Highway Law


Title 23 Winter Closing

Title 23 Road Definitions

Title 23 Town Road Layout

Title 23 Discontinuance

Title 23 Paper Streets

Title 23 Abandonment

Title 23 Road Associations

Title 23 Defective Public Roads

Title 33 Description in Deed

7 comments:

  1. hello,
    i live in southern Maine and the Cemetery Association that has been in town for 175yrs is on the corner or a Maine state road and a private road that has be closed before the 1960's. the town moved to close the road. here it is over 30yrs later the towns conservation/ Forestry committee wish to reopen because the town has land at the end of the closed road they wish to access after all this time.
    we as a Cemetery board again about 1/4 ac. when they closed it and because of other reasons we have damages to our buyers lots and head stones?
    what is the normal when is comes to something like this and what about the damages?
    on top of this the road is not up to town or state codes and they have allowed some one to build out there also with out a clear right away?

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    Replies
    1. You say the road was "closed" before the 1960's. The first thing to find out is the exact wording that was used in the "closing," and what process was used. Was it a vote at a town meeting, or simply an action taken by the Selectmen? And did it use the word "closed" or the word "discontinued?" Did it say anything about retaining a right of way, private way, or easement of any kind?
      Prior to 1965, if a road was discontinued it would have reverted to private property unless the vote specifically stated that an easement would be retained.
      On the other hand, if it was merely "closed," that opens another whole can of worms. There was and is nothing in Maine statutes that allows a town to simply close a road. They could "close to winter maintenance" for a period of up to ten years, in other words, they could suspend snow removal, but only temporarily. After ten years they had to review it and decide whether or not to close it for another period of up to ten years. Counties (but not towns) could "close for maintenance," that is, close a road temporarily while it was being repaired. But I believe they did not acquire that authority until 1965. Even so, many towns did close roads, even though there is nothing in the law that allowed them to do so.
      There is at least one Court case in which the Court recognized a closing as being a temporary suspension of maintenance, which was different from a discontinuance and did not relinquish town ownership of the road.
      To be continued...

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    2. In your case, if the road was closed before the 1960's, that means presumably it hasn't been maintained at the expense of the public for somewhere around 50 years. That would make it ripe for a claim of abandonment. There are two types of abandonment - Common Law Abandonment and Statutory Abandonment.
      I'm betting the Town would claim Statutory Abandonment under 23 MRSA 3028. To make that claim, they would only have to establish that it had been a town or county road, and that it had not been maintained at the expense of the public for 30 or more consecutive years. A road that has been abandoned by statute automatically becomes a "public easement," which would give the public the right to use the road freely by motor vehicle, but the public would no longer be responsible for maintenance.
      In other words, the Town gets a free ride at the expense of any landowner who maintains the road because he needs it for access to his property. So if the Cemetery Association repairs the road so as to have access to the cemetery, the general public can then use it for free. That would include the Town using it to access their land.
      The other type of abandonment, Common Law Abandonment, requires that the road not have been used for at least 20 consecutive years. A road that has been abandoned by common law ceases to exist as a road. It is no longer even a private road, so any land that has no other access is then legally land locked. Courts disagree as to whether common law abandonment of public roads is still an option now that we have statutory abandonment.
      You could try claiming that it was abandoned by common law due to non-use for a period of twenty years immediately following the "closing" (if it was indeed a closing and not a discontinuance.) If the date of the closing was before 1956, that would put the whole 20 years before 1976 when statutory abandonment became available, so you could argue that the right of way was already extinguished before it could have been claimed under section 3028.
      But that would leave properties land locked unless they had other access. If the property owners have continued to use the road for property access, they could then claim that by now they have acquired "prescriptive easements." In order to establish a prescriptive easement, they have to have used the road continuously for 20 years with the acquiescence of the other landowners whose land they have to cross.
      I know this is all pretty complicated and probably confusing. If you send me an email I can correspond with you in more detail and see if I can help you figure out your options. My email is roadways@juno.com.

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    3. hello,
      i will send you an email over the weekend and give you the best to my knowledge what they are planning to do.. and thank you for your help and information is has been a great interest in helping me understand better...

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    4. Great! I'll look for your email. Also, if you can give me the exact location of the road, I'll see what I can find out about it.

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    5. i have enclosed this in my e-mail but i dont think i gave you a town, let me know when you re-contact me via email.. thank you again

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    6. I'll look for your email and respond there.

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