January 4, 2013

Augusta logger claims new city regulations will put him out of business

'How am I going to pay my taxes? It's the only thing I do. I've got to eat,' says Rodney Vigue

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- A local logger whose neighbors' complaints about him sawing wood prompted new city regulations that more clearly ban commercial firewood processing in residential zones says the changes will rob him of the only livelihood he's ever known.

"They're putting me out of business," said Rodney Vigue, who has cut tree-length wood up into firewood at his Wilderness Way home for about five years. "How am I going to pay my taxes? It's the only thing I do. I've got to eat. Yeah, I sold a cord of wood yesterday. I bought groceries with the money I made. And you can look in my fridge, to see it was nothing much."

However, some of Vigue's neighbors in the residential but rural Outlet Road area near the Chelsea town line say he's been skirting the law by commercially cutting firewood mornings, nights, weekends and holidays in a residential zone, where doing so is not allowed. Neighbors said the frequent buzz of Vigue's chainsaw has made it hard for them to enjoy their own backyards.

"It's not just us; it bothers other neighbors, too," said Mona Berube, whose home she shares with her husband, Lucien, abuts Vigue's property and is roughly 350 feet away from the home and wood-cutting operation. "One of our other neighbors gave up, he's moving out. We refuse to give up. We've been living there 50 years. We've just about had it."

Matt Nazar, the city's acting development director, has said the city's ordinances already banned commercial firewood processing in residential zones, such as where Vigue and the Berubes live. But the language didn't define it clearly enough to hold up in court.

The definition of fuel wood production -- approved by councilors Thursday to be added to the city's land use ordinance -- is "the mechanized processing of wood into any length less than tree length, not accessory to a timber harvest, when not burned or consumed on site."

City Manager William Bridgeo said the change unanimously approved by councilors is meant to better define commercial wood cutting and will, when paired with the ban on commercial wood cutting in residential zones, give the city code enforcement office the ability to enforce the ban on commercial firewood processing in residential neighborhoods.

Officials said the new rules are not meant to prevent residents from cutting up firewood to heat their homes, which is allowed throughout the city.

Bridgeo said Vigue has been cutting wood brought in from other sites for years in violation of city ordinance, but the city couldn't stop it.

Councilors, at the urging of the Berubes, adopted the new language as an emergency measure on Thursday, meaning it took effect immediately rather than 30 days after passage.

Bridgeo said Vigue would be told about the change by a code enforcement officer on Friday, and have to stop cutting the wood for resale.

"If not, it goes to court," Bridgeo told councilors.

Vigue said he did indeed get a call from Code Enforcement Officer Gary Fuller on Friday, who told him he could cut wood for his own use, but not to sell to others. Vigue said he's not sure what he's going to do. He needs money to rebuild his home, which was damaged by fire early last year.

"Do I break the law and continue to cut wood, when it comes down to brass tacks and I need to eat or pay bills, or will the town support me?" said Vigue, 52, who has been logging, primarily in Augusta, since he was 17. "Either way, I'm going to lose everything. And I've worked for everything I have in life."

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