Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Location: Maine, United States

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Local Tragedy

My home town suffered a tragedy a week ago. A lady who summers here on my own favorite lake, Wilson Pond, lost her brakes in a borrowed pickup truck going down over the hill on my street, Pleasant Street, accelerated while she apparently tried everything she could try to slow down the truck short of crashing it into the ditch or the houses on our street, then ran the stop sign at the bottom of our hill, crossed a parking lot, and broke through the railing of the boardwalk, plunging into Moosehead Lake. Attempts by three local businessmen to rescue her failed and she drowned before responders could rescue her. Apparently the emergency brake was missing a segment of cable and both the front right and rear right brake lines failed. I have been told that the pickup had a manual transmission and it appears that she tried to downshift, damaging the transmission in the process.
I have traveled this hill nearly all my life. The hill is one of the steepest in town and it flattens out less than a hundred yards from the stop sign. It has been my recurring nightmare, sleeping and awake, that I would find myself without brakes going down this hill and wind up crashing into the lake. I'm not alone when it comes to that fear. It's shared by many who use this street to enter town. I can only imagine the terror this woman felt as she helplessly plunged through the stop sign and shot into the lake.
I commend the rescue efforts of the three local businessmen, Mike Boutin who owns Northwoods Outfitters, Chris Fenn, one of Boutin's employees, and another local businessman Gary Deflethsen who bravely dove into Moosehead Lake working themselves to exhaustion attempting the rescue. They are reported to have said the woman herself appeared to be unconscious and unable to help herself. The article in this week's Moosehead Messenger goes on to say that even our town manager John Simco donned a wetsuit and joined the rescue effort, but the Bangor Daily News reported on Saturday that it was 30 minutes before trained rescuers were able to break into the truck fifteen feet under water and bring the lady's body up. It would appear to me that the woman's only chance of survival was the rescue attempt by these three brave local businessmen. Again, I commend their efforts.
Should such a nightmare ever happen to myself, my wife, my children, or any of my friends or extended family, I would hope that there would be men and women in this town brave enough to risk their lives to rescue us. Damn the warnings reportedly later given by Simco and published in Saturday's Bangor Daily News. Quoting the article, not Simco directly, "people need to be very careful in such situations. The first rule of any rescue effort is to keep yourself safe. One or all of the men could have been overcome and required a rescue which would have made the task even more difficult for first responders."
All who attempted the rescue are heroes in my eyes. Damn Simco's warnings!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Tax Battle Stage I

Eden Hill is in jeopardy of losing its existence and I'm getting quite depressed because of that. What is going on to make me say that?
Eden Hill exists in my own imagination, but I use the term to name the farm that I plan to spend my retirement maintaining. The farm is located in the town of Greenville, Maine and is part of what has been "The Walden Farm" since the 1880s. During World War II the federal government, the State of Maine, and the town of Greenville by "eminent domain" took land from this farm and other neighboring farms and built the Greenville Airport. Prior to that time, my dad maintained a landing strip in one of his pastures, but with the war came government funding for small airports such as the Greenville airport.
The Walden Farm was broken into three sections by this 1940s airport project. One section is still in use as airport property and includes the north end of the secondary runway, part of the flightline, and property on which a half dozen hangers sit.
A second section of Walden Farm was to become the east end of a third runway, but after stripping large sections of this land of its farm topsoil and standing timber, the third runway plans were scrapped and the land went into decades of neglect. Attempts to recover this land by my father were rebuffed by the town until the 1970s when my father, then in his 80s, was finally granted ownership to this land by quit-claim deed.
A third section of this land was not taken for airport use and remains to this day in the Walden Family. My dad divorced in the mid 1940s and this part of the farm was deeded to Dad's daughter who later deeded it to her younger brother Ed, my half brother.
It is the second section of this farm, the property taken for the third runway, then abandoned for decades before being returned to my father, that has come to be my farm and it is this farm that I have been calling Eden Hill Farm since the beginning of this century.
Eden Hill Farm contains approximately eighteen and a half acres of land, two acres of which are sectioned off by the Walden Farm Road, a town-owned gravel road used to access my brother Ed's farm as well as the west shore of Lower Wilson Pond. Roughly half of my farm is in old pasture land now being used as blueberry fields. When I was a boy, my dad and my brother Hal maintained these fields every few years by burning them in the spring just after the snow melt. Burning blueberry fields every few years is common practice in Maine. After Dad died, Hal and I occasionally burned the fields just to keep the forests from taking over our fields. He died early in 2001 leaving to me what I now call Eden Hill Farm.
There are no buildings or house lots of any kind on Eden Hill Farm, nor to my knowledge have there been at any time in the history of Walden Farm. Yet the tax assessors for the Town of Greenville insist that I pay taxes for a one acre house lot. The official term for this lot is "baselot." As long as I don't build on my property, I have no control of where this imaginary house lot is placed on my property. In fact, there is no need for it to even be located. It exists in the imagination of the tax assessors who are free to locate it wherever its value would be maximized. This practice yields the maximum taxes for the town.
Greenville just hired an assessing firm to revalue the property values of the entire town. Comparing 2006 assessments with recent property sales, some of the property in the town was said to be overvalued while some was undervalued so this new assessment, it was claimed, would even things out. Most property owners, it was claimed, would see very little change in taxes. Eden Hill Farm saw a change in taxes, however, from approximately $650 in 2006 to approximately $1,650 next year. The increase reflects an increase in the assessed value of the land from $29,000 in 2006 to just over $150,000 in 2007.
I met with the assessor on Monday to fact find and check for mistakes. It was then that I found out about the baselot valuation. The assessor told me that if there was no marketable view from my land, the baselot would be valued at $30,000. It is the potential for a view that lifts the value by an additional $100,000. He explained that recent sales in the area reflect the accuracy of his assessment.
In other words, if I were to decide to develop my land into a house lot and were to put that land on the market, I could expect to sell it for this amount of money if the house lot took advantage of the view. My taxes are based on these "ifs."
Eden Hill Farm has no house lot on it. Eden Hill Farm is not for sale.
Let the war begin.