FORT ANN — The town has declared Brown's Cemetery in West Fort Ann to be an abandoned cemetery and has joined a suit calling for neighbor Ed Paradis to remove a fence it said is on the cemetery property.
The move, which came after a special Town Board meeting Friday morning, is the latest in a series of conflicts between residents and Paradis, who owns the land next to the cemetery, including the land Moose Hillock Campground is on.
The town, along with American Legion Post 703 and a number of residents who either own plots or have family members buried in the cemetery, will be suing Paradis in Washington County Superior Court to get him to remove the current fence.
Attorney William Nikas of Hudson Falls, who is taking the case pro bona, said he, Moore, Town Attorney Jeffrey Meyer and Paradis' attorney, Mark Rehm were at the cemetery several weeks ago with a surveyor, who checked the boundary lines, then overlaid them on a map.
Moore said the town sent Rehm and Paradis a proposal and had hoped to hear back by the Feb. 13 board meeting, but did not hear back until the next day.
The response, said Moore and Nikas, led to the special meeting and the plans to file the lawsuit.
"His response had four points, starting with the fact that the existing fence would stay, he would reserve his rights regarding vehicle access, he wanted anyone who posted anything negative about his business on social media to take it down, and he wanted his attorney fees paid for," Nikas said. "We were shocked by that."
Both Moore and Nikas noted there is nothing either of them can do about what individuals post on the internet. People have posted that potential customers should not do business with the campground, because of how Paradis has handled the cemetery issue.
"To me, it's inexcusable the way he is handling it," Nikas said Sunday, noting that while he is handling the case for free, he is considering asking the court to have Paradis pay his fees because of the four-point response.
Nikas also cited a burial late last year in which a relative of the deceased had to wait in a car on Tripoli Road, because she could not get into the cemetery in her wheelchair.
He also said that the American Legion acts as the required honor guard for veterans' funerals, and members have told him it cannot effectively do its duties the way the cemetery is set up right now.
Nikas said many people are asking to be included in the suit, and he is in the process of narrowing down the number of people who will officially be involved.
Paradis has said he tried to work with the town for four years on the cemetery issue, but it was not seriously addressed until the fence went up last year.
The land had long been farmland, first owned by Hiram Brown, then sold to the West faimly. Clara West sold the land to Richland Properties and eventually it was purchased by Paradis.
Both the Browns and Wests sold cemetery plots, and some of the burials there go back several hundred years. But there are no complete records of plot sales, and some people do not have deeds to the plots. There have also been some questions about the boundaries of the cemetery.
The 182-acre campground has a tropically themed pool area, which includes a mock volcano. It has private sites for tent and RV camping and also has cabin suites.
Paradis was been criticized by residents who said they felt the fence and an earthern berm made it too hard to get to parts of the cemetery and impossible to get to a site that had been used as a turnaround. That site is on Paradis’ land. He has since removed the berm and moved the fence back.
"That's still not far enough," Nikas said. "The surveyor has it laid out, and that fence is still on cemetery property. The petitioners do not care if a fence is up, they just do not want it in the cemetery."