EAST HARWICH — A subcommittee of the board of selectmen will investigate the work of a contractor who cut a 51-foot swath of trees along a section of Hall Path. Questions about ownership of the land have been raised and there is concern that a portion of the disturbed land belongs to the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School.
The town issued two cease and desist orders to halt the activity. Selectman Michael MacAskill told the board last week that trees were hacked down by an excavator and removed. There was even a physical altercation when an abutter asked the contractor what was going on and was allegedly assaulted and the police called, MacAskill said.
“Deplorable is the only word I can come up with,” MacAskill said of the situation.
Building Commissioner Ray Chesley issued a cease and desist on the activities a few weeks ago. But, given some confusion related to the activities, the order was lifted after communicating with legal counsel. A second cease and desist order was subsequently issued and the contractor was told to remove equipment.
The active cease and desist was sent by the department of public works to Paul O’Connell, III, in care of Princi Mills Law in Hyannis. According to the order, Hall's Path is a public way and the alterations are in violation of the town code.
“The town has not issued a license allowing you to undertake any work on or within Hall’s Path, and you are hereby ordered to cease and desist from making any further alterations, repairs, and/or improvements to Hall’s Path unless there is compliance with the town code,” the order reads.
The alleged property owner has one deed, MacAskill said, but there are several large parcels involved. Town officials had previously reported the owners of the lots there were unknown.
MacAskill said there “is a land grab going on out there. We need to protect the neighbors and this land as best we can.”
Town Administrator Joseph Powers and the building commissioner met at the site with Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School Principal Paul Niles, who indicated that some of the school property was disturbed, MacAskill said.
The clearing of that section of Hall’s Path has drawn more two-way traffic down the roadway, which connects Pleasant Bay Road and Route 137. Charter school officials have reported an increase in vehicles, MacAskill said.
“The board should have its hands on this,” MacAskill said. “My point is the buck stops with the board of selectmen.”
MacAskill said he wanted to serve as the board’s investigator in the matter. He asked for a report from the town administrator on how the situation has gotten to this point and why the initial cease and desist was lifted. The board should be working with the real estate and open space committee, which should use some of the $50,000 provided to the committee to do title research to investigate the ownership, he said. He also called for a title specialist from KP Law, the town's attorney, to get involved.
Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine questioned the board’s role in this matter; oversight should be through the town administrator working with the town staff, he said. The town administrator is charged with the day to day operation of town affairs and employees.
The town charter allows selectmen to investigate the affairs of the town and the conduct of any town department, office or agency. The charter also directs the town administrator to coordinate, with the approval of the board of selectmen, administrative activities of town agencies with concerns relating to physical, economic and environmental development of the town.
MacAskill said no decision should be made without the approval of the board of selectmen.
The charter requires a department of public works permit for any change to a public or private road, Assistant Town Administrator Meggan Eldredge said. She said she would inform DPW Director Lincoln Hooper not to issue any permits on Hall's Path without the approval of selectmen.
“We need to start an investigation on who screwed this up,” MacAskill said.
It was agreed Howell would serve on the subcommittee with MacAskill.