July 18, 2019

Pack-rat philosophy leads to court order> Pownal man must clean up junkyard

PORTLAND — Kenneth Waldo Emerson must remove the junk cars and scraps that are strewn across his property and pay a fine for operating an unlicensed junkyard, the state supreme court ruled Friday.

The town of Pownal charged Emerson in 1992 with running an unlicensed automobile graveyard and junkyard on his 17-acre lot.

After losing a series of court battles over the scraps in his yard, he took his case to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which affirmed the earlier judgments.

The quintessential Yankee, Emerson became something of a celebrity because of his battle with the town.

Emerson says he is a descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th-century philosopher who wrote “Self-Reliance.” And like his ancestor, Emerson, through his court battles, initiated his own philosophical dialogue: What is junk?

Emerson argued that the materials stored on his land are not junk but merely “personal property” that he intended to use.

He has said that he is a resourceful pack rat who can’t stand to throw anything away because he is sure to find a use for it in the future.

However, Emerson did acknowledge to the court that the old trucks, tires, buckets, trailers, rusty bicycles, and other unidentifiable objects did create a “mess” on his land.

Two of the justices dissented from Friday’s ruling, saying that “Emerson’s predicament calls to mind the sage observation of his putative ancestor that `one man’s beauty is another’s ugliness.’ ”

Justices Caroline D. Glassman and Howard Dana said the town’s citation was based on the personal impressions of three selectmen who visited Emerson’s property. “What was junk to the selectmen is valuable personal property to Emerson,” they wrote.

Freeport attorney John Shepard, who represented the town, said, “the Law Court seems to be troubled by the metaphysical question of what junk is.”

The dissenting justices suggested that if the town of Pownal wants to establish a standard for the appearance of residential lawns, “it might permissibly do so through a zoning ordinance.”

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