Yarmouth Water District apology for razing historic North Yarmouth home may not be enough

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NORTH YARMOUTH — After demolishing a historic house without a permit, the Yarmouth Water District is trying to make amends with the town and has offered an apology and $4,000 compensation.

It doesn’t appear to have worked.

The town has hired an attorney, who said that while it’s doubtful the case will go to court, there is “plenty of room to negotiate.”

“I’ve been in touch with the legal counsel of the water district,” said John Loyd, the town’s Brunswick-based attorney, who was expected to meet privately with the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night. “The next step is to negotiate with the water district to come to an agreement.”

He said enforcement is difficult and that it is hard to predict what the outcome of the legal process will be.

The president of the North Yarmouth Historical Society said the district’s proposal was not “entirely satisfactory.”  

Under state and local laws, the water district could face fines of up to $2,500 per day after the ordinance was violated, which was about 40 days, Loyd said.

William Reinsborough, chairman of the water district, said the district made a mistake, but he was hoping to keep the legal costs low because the payment of the fines will ultimately be footed by the ratepayers and taxpayers of Yarmouth and North Yarmouth.

“We’re trying to be realistic about the fines,” Reinsborough said. “The longer lawyers are involved, the more expensive it will be. It’s one government agency against another government agency and neither one of us has any money.”

A six-page letter written by Reinsborough details what led to the demolition and offered a settlement proposal. He said the district wanted to establish better communication with the town and offered to provide access for the North Yarmouth Historical Society to conduct an archaeological dig.

The Baston Road home was a center-chimney Cape, Greek revival-style post-and-beam house, and was likely one of the oldest in town, North Yarmouth Historical Society President Katie Murphy said.

The title can be traced back to 1854, but Murphy said it probably goes back even further.

“What happened was not just the destruction of the house without a permit, but a piece of history of the town,” she said.”It’s not that amazing old artifacts were lost when the house was torn down. The house itself was an historic artifact.”

The Beckwith home, which was named after the family that previously owned it, was purchased by the district in June. The sale of the property followed the death of the previous owner, and included 17 surrounding acres.

The district bought the property because of its close proximity to three town wells and because it was concerned development on the property might lead to water contamination, Reinsborough said.

The historical society and the town are working together to assess appropriate compensation, according to Murphy, who said the district’s proposal was “not an entirely satisfactory settlement.”

“I think the town is looking for not just financial compensation, but also ways to enhance education and preservation efforts,” she said, so that this situation doesn’t happen again.

The Board of Selectmen is not expected to publicly address the proposal until next month.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.