November 17, 2012

State asked to step into Readfield dispute with cattle farmer

Town says Edward Munson's livestock frequently escapes pastures, threatening public safety

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

READFIELD -- A years-old conflict between a cattle farmer and town officials who say his animals are escaping frequently, endangering motorists, has escalated and the state is being asked to step in.

click image to enlarge

Richard Munson's farm in Readfield.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

The farmer, Edward Munson of Winthrop, denies negligence and said the town's concerns are overblown.

Town Manager Stefan Pakulski said the town has clashed with Munson ever since he began raising cattle on a pasture bought in Readfield in late 2007. Pakulski and Animal Control Officer Karen Peterson said improper farming practices have lead to Munson's cattle continuously fleeing and wandering across routes 17 and 135.

Walter Whitcomb, commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said the department will be sending a letter to the town and Munson alerting them that Munson has lost his right-to-farm protection because of the reported incidents. That doesn't have an immediate effect on the situation, but Munson could face greater personal and property liability in court, Whitcomb said.

"Our actions will be to watch the situation. There's nothing else pending," he said.

The department would take more action if there reports of animal cruelty, which Whitcomb said doesn't appear to be the case.

Pakulski, in a letter sent Nov. 2 to Whitcomb, pleaded with state officials to help solve the problem, keep the public safe and ensure Munson is properly caring for his cattle.

"If we do nothing to stop this terrible situation from continuing, then we are partly responsible for any tragedy that unfolds because of it," Pakulski wrote.

But Munson said there isn't an issue with his herd of 80 cattle escaping. Munson said one cow got loose, and no cattle have gotten out since he brought the cow to his home in Winthrop. He said town officials have lied about how many cattle have escaped in the past, exaggerating the number of days it's happened.

"All they're trying to do is start trouble. It was one cow the whole time. Another time it was two babies," Munson said.

Peterson said that although the last few complaints involved the cow, different ones have escaped before -- sometimes as many as five or six.

"I'm sure he feels like we're being heavy handed," she said. "Our perspective is a little different, to put it that way."

Readfield Selectwoman Sue Reay, who lives across the street from the pastures, said it's been more than one animal. "There was a day that I had 12 to 15 cattle down on my lawn," she said.

Asked this past week if any more cows will escape, Munson said that he did not care.

"I'd like to see that whole herd get out. That would tickle me. Then they'd have something (to complain about)," he said.

Munson said the pasture's fencing was in poor condition when he bought the property and he's spent $8,000 in repairs since then.

In December, Augusta District Court ruled that Munson's cattle had been found crossing public roads or trespassing on private property on five or more days within a 30-day period or three or more days within a seven-day period. The court ordered him to meet with town officials and make necessary repairs.

Munson didn't do that, and court ruled this May that Munson had failed to comply with the previous order. The regularity of the complaints were inconsistent with Munson's claim that the fencing was consistently maintained, according to a court document. Munson was ordered to pay more than $4,000 to the town in legal fees and penalties for not complying.

Pakulski said Munson finally agreed to begin paying the town $50 a month starting in January.

(Continued on page 2)

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