July 5, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 26

Neighbors' dispute stumps borough

Haines Borough officials this week said they have no legal recourse to remove seven large overturned stumps lining the roadway near the intersection of Lutak Road and First Avenue.

The stumps, placed there by property owner Carol Waldo following a dispute with neighbors Keith and Irene Stigen, have been called “unattractive,” “unappealing,” and flat-out “ugly” by residents and borough officials.

Mayor Stephanie Scott said she’d just as soon see the borough pay for the removal of the “Volkswagen Beetle-sized” stumps dispersed over the 2,600-square-foot sliver of property. “If I were queen for the day, I’d say spend $500 and get them out of there.”

Waldo said the Stigens for years had illegally used her private property for parking and burning garbage. The borough also stored plowed snow on the property against Waldo’s wishes. Fed up with the unauthorized use of her land, Waldo had a third party deposit the oversized stumps last fall.

“We’ve been asking them to stay off and they won’t stay off. I’m just sick of it,” Waldo said.

“I don’t know what the hell everybody is so worried about,” Waldo said of the stumps. “They’re organic. I’m not dumping garbage out there.”

Irene Stigen said visitors to her home and other Haines residents have complained to her about the stumps, believing she and her husband put them there. “They say, ‘What’s all that junk out there for? Why’d you put it there?’ They think we put them there, but it wasn’t us,” Stigen said.

The Stigens claim part of the property occupied by the stumps is theirs, but Waldo has had three surveys of the property and the borough’s assistant assessor Dean Olsen confirmed the land belongs to Waldo.

Mayor Scott has been working diligently to find an avenue for the stumps’ removal, but she has been stymied repeatedly. Scott consulted interim police chief Simon Ford and trooper Ken VanSpronsen, hoping the stumps would qualify as a “nuisance” under borough code, but both law enforcement officers agreed it does not.

Ford said it would be one thing if the stumps were blocking traffic visibility or causing accidents, but that isn’t the case.

“I have never found that I could not see oncoming traffic because of the stumps. So, I am having a hard time articulating how it is that the borough has the authority to come onto a person’s land and move things just because we think they’re ugly,” Ford said.

Removing the stumps because people find them unsightly could set a dangerous standard for borough jurisdiction over private property, Ford said. “Consider the precedent this may set. The same line of reasoning could be applied to anything that a group of citizens or borough officials considered ugly. Trailer parks, pizza restaurants, toys in the yard, etc. could be subject to removal by the government,” he said.

While Ford said it would be reasonable for the borough to remove the stumps if Waldo consented, public facilities director Carlos Jimenez said that scenario makes him uncomfortable.

“It’s using taxpayer dollars to take somebody’s garbage off somebody’s property because you don’t like the way it looks. It just doesn’t seem right to me,” Jimenez said.

When Jimenez assumed the public facilities director position last fall, he sent a letter to Waldo informing her the borough would not use the property for snow storage any longer, which it hasn’t.

Waldo said the stumps are not a permanent installation on the property, just a temporary cheap way to deter the Stigens from continuing to trespass.  

  “It’s mine. I have paid taxes on it every year since 1983 when I bought the land. If the town doesn’t like the stumps, then they can pay to have it surveyed and they can pay to put up a fence (to keep the Stigens out),” Waldo said.