AUBURN — Police and town officials are investigating a complaint from a local woman who says a town-contracted construction firm excavated gravel and timber and dumped debris on private land the town mistakenly believed to be vacant.
Geraldine Silva owns 30 acres of land on Chester Turnpike, according to her attorney, Mark Morrissette, who said that in 2012 she found out that JH Rolfe Construction Co., owned by former Auburn road agent John Rolfe, had excavated gravel and timber, removed an old stonewall used to mark the property, left a large hole and dumped debris.
"After being confronted, the contractor suggested that the current road agent and other town officials gave him permission to excavate because the land was believed vacant. I don't know if town officials are involved, but this whole thing is curious, and I am going to pursue it," Morrissette said.
Rolfe did not respond to requests for comment.
Town Administrator William Herman said that as far as he knows, the town has never given construction companies contracted by the town permission to excavate materials off land believed to be vacant. Herman said Rolfe has done road work for the town for decades.
"This is a dispute between two private individuals," Herman said of Rolfe and Silva. He added, "(Silva's land) is listed on the tax map as owner unknown. I have no idea if (Rolfe) was told they could gather materials there or not. It's being dealt with by town officials, the Town Council and legal counsel," Herman said.
Morrissette, who has sent multiple letters to the town on behalf of Silva, said he strongly disputes the notion that the land was vacant or that taxes have gone unpaid, and called the town's response, which denied any responsibility, to his complaints curious.Herman said that since the land was listed as owner unknown, no taxes on the land have been collected, which could result in the land being foreclosed upon."
My client has never missed a tax payment and takes strong objection to the notion that she has," Morrissette said.
He added that Silva is listed as the owner of the property in a survey performed in the 1990s and is on record as the owner in the Rockingham County Registry of Deeds.
Current Road Agent Mike Dross refused to comment on whether he gave Rolfe permission to excavate Silva's land.
"These are all allegations. We're trying to find out what is going on. If there are any problems with the town we will straighten them out and work them out, but I can't comment on an ongoing thing," Dross said.
Auburn Police Chief Edward Picard said police are also looking into the situation and could not comment because it was an active investigation.
"As far as illegal dumping, that is absolutely something that should be pursued by local authorities, and if they can't pursue, they should pass it off to county officials," Morrissette said.
According to Morrissette, when Silva found Rolfe excavating her property he told her that he had permission from the town because the land was listed as vacant. Within days of that conversation, not only was the damage done not repaired, but also debris, including tires, had been dumped on the property.
"I do know for a fact that Mr. Rolfe or his company are responsible. There was no denial from him that he was responsible when he spoke to my client. He called her to discuss it and said he would remove the debris, and the way it sits now, it appears to be cleared and filled in. But I am not sure it is all gone," Morrissette said.
With roughly $40,000 worth of damage done to Silva's property, Morrissette said he is investigating the relationship between the town and Rolfe to determine whether he did actually have permission from the town to excavate. To that end, he has filed several right to know requests with the town.
"I will give everyone a reasonable time to respond, and if they don't, I will sue. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered here," he said.