December 10, 2013

Town of China prevails in junkyard dispute

Supreme court upholds ruling that orders vehicles removed or covered.

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Al Althenn has lost a tussle with the town of China about whether he operates an illegal automobile graveyard.

click image to enlarge

appeal Fails: Al Althenn, center, of China, looks at Nokomis Regional High School student Katie Manzo, at right, as she asks questions during a break in hearings in October at the Newport school with Justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

File photo by David Leaming

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court’s ruling that concluded Althenn has an unauthorized junkyard on his property at 85 Kidder Road, in violation of state law.

Oral arguments in Althenn’s appeal were heard in October when the supreme court justices held a session at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport.

Althenn had appealed a July 2012 ruling by Judge Beth Dobson in Augusta District Court. Dobson gave Althenn 30 days to remove three of the “unregistered, uninspected vehicles from his property or store them in a building.”

Court documents listed “four unregistered, uninspected vehicles on Althenn’s property: a 1978 GMC Grumman box van, a 1962 GMC C60 truck, a 1984 3/4-ton truck, and the body of a 1978 Ford van,” which housed a family of raccoons. State statute says three or more unregistered and uninspected vehicles aren’t permitted outside a property.

Dobson also ordered Althenn to pay a civil penalty of $1,500, plus the town’s attorney fees and costs, totaling $8,509.46

“Ample evidence in the record supports the trial court’s findings,” wrote Associate Justice Warren Silver in the opinion supported by all seven justices. “Althenn’s own testimony established that his use of the vehicles was infrequent at best.” Althenn said he used the GMC truck to plow and to haul firewood.

The district court judge had concluded the GMC box van could remain because it was an antique vehicle.

The 30 days to remove the vehicles will kick in once the supreme court’s ruling is docketed at district court, said attorney Alton Stevens, who argued on behalf of the Town of China.

“I expected the town to prevail on the junkyard violation,” he said.

The supreme court justices refused to award the town an additional $555 it sought for attorney’s fees.

Attorney Aaron B. Rowden, who represented Althenn, did not return a phone message immediately Tuesday.

Rowden previously had argued that Althenn was a hobbyist and should be excluded from the junkyard statute because he planned to restore the vehicles.

Reached at home on Tuesday, Althenn said he was unprepared to comment on the supreme court’s decision.

Betty Adams — 621-5631 badams@centralmaine.com Twitter: @betadams
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