Two distinct concerns were raised at the March 18 selectmen's meeting, though both had to do with the condition of town-maintained dirt roads.

One, a motorist who became stuck on Mitchell Road on March 16, contacted Selectman Steven Bennett, and then left his car, only to come back and find it had been towed. He petitioned the board for damages incurred by the extrication of his vehicle.

The other, Laura Greeley, a resident who runs a daycare service on Goosepecker Ridge Road and has children with allergies and asthma in her care, called it a "safety issue" as ambulance and Fire Department vehicles would not be able to reach her home in the event of an emergency.

To that end, Colby Robbins of Waldo County and Emergency Medical Service Alert North, posted a public service announcement on March 15 about the deteriorating conditions of dirt roads in the county.

In his alert, Robbins said, "There will be a delay in response of Fire, EMS and Police on these roads. We will be responding as quick as we can, but the treacherous roads will cause delay!"

Asked what happens in an emergency situation where the road is impassable, he said, "We will go to the point of safe return and rely on fire department or road crews to extricate."

In any event, according to Robbins, it will take longer to get to an emergency on muddy or near-impassable dirt roads.

Greeley said she spoke with Selectman Brian Jones about the condition of Mitchell Road and doubted a fire truck or an ambulance could get in. She said all access roads to her house were "extremely difficult to get through."

Her business is being affected by the condition of the road, she said, having three families unable to drop off children because of concerns of getting stuck.

At the time, she said Jones called it a "safety hazard," and after a car became stuck over the weekend, selectmen decided to close the road.

Greeley said she pleaded with selectmen at last year's town meeting about the exact same issue and was told there was no money in the budget to fix the roads.

She questioned the logic behind buying the Skidgel property and budgeting for an excavator when there are roads that are impassable "to the residents who pay taxes."

"Even after you told me you would do some work on it last year," she said, "there was still nothing in the budget for it (this year)."

Backing up her argument, another resident asked, "What if an ambulance has to go down to my father's? He's not in very good shape. How would you feel if you're sitting where he is?"

A resident with a special needs son on Rollins Road, who is a federal firefighter at Togus covering the Chelsea, Gardner and Augusta area, told of a fatal call he went on Friday where road conditions hampered efforts to get to the patient.

"The kid didn't make it…I started thinking about my (own) kid. When I got back that night, my wife is stuck on Rollins Road, (my son) he can't breathe, his pulse is skyrocketing.

"To think we can't put rocks down to take care of our streets is nuts," he said. "Do we get resolution at the end of the night, or where do we go from here?"

Jones said this year so far has been unusual and that "everybody's having this problem," referring to other neighboring towns with impassable roads.

Addressing why the town purchased the Skidgel property, Jones said, "We were tired of looking at an open dump," and the selectmen brought it before the town for a vote. He expressed some frustration, noting that only five people at the meeting had attended the annual town meeting.

"We'd like the support of the community," he said.

Jones also addressed the purchase of the excavator. The town had been leasing an excavator and realized that, by taking a loan and buying an excavator, payments would equal what the town budgeted for the rental.

"You can have good roads or you can have higher taxes, that's it, we have to make a decision," he said.

The question of whether Selectman Bennett gave specific permission to a motorist about abandoning his stuck car turned into a back-and-forth debate over exact words used and what was implied.

Bennett said the motorist did asked him for help, but wanted him to hire a wrecker to get his car out. Bennett said the town did not have one at its disposal. "We don't have a wrecker service," he said.

"I did not give you permission to leave it there," Bennett said. "You said you were going to leave it there and I said if that's what you want to do then leave it there."

The motorist said he was given permission to leave his car on Mitchell Road from Bennett, and from a Maine State Trooper, until he could make arrangements to have it moved. The resident said he wrote his number on a paper plate and left it on the dashboard in case anyone came upon the car.

He went on to say later someone called a tow truck, without him knowing, and pulled the vehicle out. Because the car was left in "park," the resident said the car sustained damages "that I have not been able to assess yet."

The argument escalated until Selectman Don Price slammed the gavel repeatedly, "I order you to be quiet and listen to him."

Bennett continued, "If you had any common sense you wouldn't have driven down there."

The motorist replied by saying the road "looked fine" at first, but eventually became impassable. He said the road was "not maintained," and that "you couldn't tell it was all mud until you drove through it."

Greeley said, "You men are implying that somehow, he should have been able to judge the mud on town-owned and maintained road and that it's his fault that he decided to drive down a town road. And then, what gall to think he's going to pay for it."

The Public Works employee who called the tow truck said he had spoken with the Sheriff's Office to see if it "was legal" to leave a car in a public way. "It's not legal," he said.

"He didn't get charged for leaving it but it can't stay," he added. "It would have frozen to the ground and then ripped in half then next day when they try to pull it out."

It was not clear if there was any communication between Bennett and the Public Works employee after Bennett met with the motorist about his stuck car.

The meeting then turned to what could be done in the short term to alleviate the problem with the conditions of the road.

According to the Public Works employee at the meeting, Freedom does not own a grader and has to either rent one or hire someone to do the job. He also mentioned grader operators would be hard to come by during mud season, and that it would not be able to be done right away.

He went on to say a truck would not be able to bring materials to where they were needed because of the road conditions.

"It will be hard getting a loaded truck down there," he said. "Maybe Tuesday or Wednesday we can add some material to harden it up."

For a long-term fix, Price said by telephone that one alternative would be to use emergency funds to fix the roads properly — if selectmen "decide that's an emergency."

In a March 20 phone interview with The Journal, Selectman Jones said, in the immediate term, a roller would be used to flatten the road to "save the surface" before expected rain on Friday and said Jersey barriers were placed closing Mitchell Road.

He said a loader has spread material on Smithton and Rollins roads, making that passage easier to maneuver.

For the long term, Jones said, "We could defer paving for a year, which would allow us to put 3 to 4 inches of ledge (gravel) on Smithton, or a couple of inches on Mitchell."

At the March 25 selectmen's meeting, Bennett said the town has budgeted some money "to put the town in the position where we could pave a mile of road a year instead of … taking out a big bond issue, like we did in 2013, and borrow a lot of money."

He said the town was still paying around $100,000 a year on the bond and said "that kind of puts a dent in your budget." The last three or four years, he said, the town has been "finding room in the budget to pave about a mile of road a year."

It would take a special town meeting, Bennett said, to take the $60,000 earmarked for paving this summer, and use it to fix parts of Mitchell Road. "It's going to make you guys happy that want to use the Mitchell Road, but I guarantee it's going to make some other folks in town unhappy because they are not going to get their portion of the road paved."

In reference to the motorist who wanted to be reimbursed for expenses he incurred from having his car towed, Bennett said the town would submit a claim to the Maine Municipal Association, and "it would depend on what they said," whether the town is legally responsible.