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A Fairfield property owner has been ordered to clean up his yard and get rid of what the town considers to be "junk" taking up his lawn. Owner Robert Dale, the latest victim in the ongoing battle between Maine’s town officials and creative “backyard entrepreneurs” like Dale. As you might expect he’s not happy that he is being “forced” by government edict to clean up the tables, chairs, sofas, tools, cars, washers, dryers, refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, engine blocks, assorted car parts and other items on his property. It was ordered to be done by June 15, which is now passed. It is an issue which has been going on in this particular town for more than a year. But battles like it have gone on in Maine since colonial times. The selling of used items from front lawns, door yards or porches, have been issues in Maine since the yard sale was invented.
No one knows who first got the idea of dragging some junk out onto a lawn somewhere to engage in untaxed, unregulated, freewheeling commerce. The person’s name is lost to history. It is also unknown what particular items were dragged onto the lawn and whether the items came from a Maine attic, a cellar, or the town dump. No one knows how much money is generated by the thousands of such sales held in Maine each year, but economists say the gross amounts could rival the earnings of BIW or CMP.
The town of Fairfield has filed a lawsuit claiming Dale is using his property as a “junkyard” without having paid all fees and without acquiring all necessary permits. He’s also accused of violating a number of town codes. Dale calls his lawn "an outdoor antique store."
He insists he is engaging in pure, unfettered free enterprise. What could be more American? But it’s apparently enough to give town officials peptic ulcers.
He says, "They defined it as junk and I don't believe it is junk. I feel it is not fair. I am being told to remove things that I am selling outside. That is what I consider unfair. Whether it is a piece of furniture or a cast iron pot - I don't know why somebody down the road can have stuff outside and I can't," said Dale said.
Yard sales have never been popular with some Maine town officials. Some say Maine’s towhed the Legislature to outlaw dumps because Maine’s dumps were major suppliers of yard sale merchandise. But yard sales survived the dump closings without skipping a beat or losing a marketable piece of junk.
Other violations listed in Fairfield’s court document were: improper storage of items, blocked exits, along with stating the property is operating as a “nuisance.”
"It might look like a lot of stuff to you but I have been working on it for six weeks and moved a lot of stuff out of there. A lot of people keep saying it is a lot of stuff and really isn't a lot of stuff," said Dale.
If Dale does not meet the deadline he will need to pay a $5,000 penalty fee plus an additional $150 every day after. The town could come in and clean up the property for Dale but he would be billed for the removal.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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