A sign directs motorists to Ramsdell Stone and Gravel in York, Maine, where the town is demanding the property's former owner clean up a site reportedly covered in junked cars, scrap metal and other detritus. Credit: Google Streetview

YORK, Maine — After months of silence, the Board of Selectmen agreed to hire a company to perform an environmental assessment of the town-owned Ramsdell Stone and Gravel property on Granite Lane.

The town has owned the property since 2015, because former owner David Ramsdell has failed to pay property taxes now amounting to more than $30,000. Ramsdell remains on the property, which functions as a dump, storing scrap metal, junk vehicles, construction debris, tires and asphalt, among other items.

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Faced with a state cease and desist order in 2016, Ramsdell in the years since has added to the stockpile, the state Department of Environmental Protection found earlier this year. This came to light in June, when Code Enforcement Officer Amber Harrison reported these findings to selectmen. By the end of July, Chairman Todd Frederick was expressing dissatisfaction with the fact Ramsdell had failed to provide a detailed cleanup plan.

However, after that, selectmen started meeting in executive session with the town attorney and nothing more was said publicly until last week’s board meeting. According to Town Manager Steve Burns, the board has been discussing legal responsibility for the cleanup.

“He retains some level of responsibility if he’s on the property. We gain it all if he’s evicted,” said Burns. “So the question becomes, how do you do this in a responsible manner that minimizes the risk to the town?”

[Selectmen threaten to evict gravel pit manager if he doesn’t offer more details about cleanup]

He said the first step is to conduct an environmental assessment of the site, which will require someone to go on the property and collect test samples. He said he has reached out to Todd Scheffer, of SRW Environmental, who conducted the assessment of the new Route 1 public works property. Selectmen at their Nov. 19 meeting voted to spend up to $10,000 on the Granite Lane assessment, which is coming from the selectmen’s contingency account.

“Knowing what the cleanup costs are is the critical next step. Then we know what we’re dealing with — is it going to take $2,000 or $20,000 or $20 million to clean it up?” Burns said. “The state has indicated that it’s pretty normal stuff. It doesn’t appear like he’s picking stuff up from places in Boston or anything. But we need to know. At this point, we’ve owned this property for a couple of years.”

He said the best of all possible solutions is for Ramsdell to pay his back taxes and clean up the site. “We don’t have a policy of kicking people out,” he said. However, he said Harrison has been unable to reach Ramsdell by phone for several months.

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