What's harder than driving over the potholes, cracks, and loose sand covering Hawley Road?

Finding out who's going to fix them.

At least that's what residents of the small residential street in Hadley found when they petitioned the town Select Board for re-paving after the long winter. Technically, the town said, it did not own Hawley Road.

When Joan O'Connell, resident of 16 Hawley Road, went to the Assessor's office in City Hall she was told the road's tax record - which would lead to its owner - did not exist.

"They told me 'We can't help you, the records don't exist here,' which was confusing," said O'Connell. "I didn't understand why there was no record of taxes being paid for on the road in the past decade. Because whoever hadn't paid them, that should've been the person in charge of fixing the road."

At its March 11 meeting, the town Select Board told the residents that since the road was privately owned the residents would need to either have the owner repair the road or petition to have the street taken over by the town and made a public road. This would require that the road be repaired and brought up to the town's minimum standards for public road condition, which would take time and cost money. The Select Board said that the residents would need to pay for a surveyor to assess the meets and bounds of the property documents which they said they did not have access to, but could be obtained by the original owner or drafter of the original deeds.

Except the town already had access to these records.

The Assessor's office did not have the physical deeds on file, as those are kept in Northampton. Nobody at the Hadley Assessor's office checked for the files online - something O'Conell and her neighbors did successfully at home. On the state's official land records website, malandrecords.com, O'Connell and her neighbors were able to find every deed, recorded easement, taking of the land, and municipal lien on the properties that had been stored electronically, going back to the early 1950s.

A history of ownership

The earliest record of the land's purchase available on the state's online land records website dates to a deed drafted to Patricia Bishko, from the Federal Land Bank of Springfield, in October of 1951. In 1965, land then changed hands to Tomlinson Realty Trust, who subdivided and sold off portions of the plot to private individuals as homesteads. The remaining unsold land was then bought by the G.R. & S. Corporation, a local developer under whom the entire original plot of Hawley Road was officially surveyed and subdivided, in October of 1970. Immediately after this purchase, Everett Roberts - then the president of local building company Russell & Roberts Builders - bought the land from G.R. & S.

It was about a week after purchase that Roberts and the town agreed to an easement, which legally allowed for trucks owned by Western Massachusetts Electrical Company and New England Telephone and Telegraph Corporation to travel on Hawley Road, in order to build and service a transformer on a large undeveloped parcel at the road's end. This land, a roughly four-acre square, was officially taken by the town under eminent domain in 1987, awarding Roberts Builders, Inc. (under its new name) $10,500 in damages.

The Western Masachusetts Electrical Company transformer at the end of Hawley Road, which is serviced regularly by the town under an easement from 1971. (Conor Snell/Paradise City Press)

The WMECO transformer at the end of Hawley Road, which is serviced regularly by the town under an easement from 1971. (Conor Snell/Paradise City Press)

Barry Roberts, who currently serves as president of E.V. Realty Trust and as a member of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, still owns some of Hawley road, including the road itself, through Roberts Builders Inc. - his family's privately-owned company. According to town Assessor Daniel Zdonek, Jr., the town cannot tax private roads or use town resources to maintain them, and so the responsibility to upkeep the roads falls on the owner of landowner. In this case the landowner was Roberts - who has all but neglected to do so since the harsh winter.

Most of the residents of Hawley Road were unaware that Roberts, not the town, owned the road, since none of the individual property deeds drawn for the residents mention private ownership of the road. Since taxes have not been collected on the road, the town says there is currently no pool of money from which maintenance funds could be drawn outside of the town's $367,404 in Chapter 90 money from the state, which the Select Board says is already appropriated to other municipal improvements.

In a phone call, Roberts said that the town did eventually obtain the official records of ownership and boundaries for the road after town Administrator David Nixon contacted him. Roberts supplied the town with all necessary documentation to have Hawley adopted as a public road, thereby allowing the town to move forward with the plan to incorporate Hawley and slate it for repairs from town funds. By the Select Board's April 8th meeting, the town had all necessary documentation to move forward with the motion to approve Hawley as a town road.

A long and bumpy road ahead

Drive down Hawley road today and you'll notice some things are a little different from the roads around it. The sign is just a little bit smaller than the rest, with the street name printed in an uneven letters on scratched and dented green paint. With adoption by the town, this will be one of several parts of the road updated.

For the residents of Hawley road, however, repairs are still several months away. The residents petitioned to have the motion to adopt Hawley entered into the Warrant for the Annual Spring Town Meeting on May 7, which would allow for the town vote on taking and  repairing the road - but were told this was probably not going to happen. Before being entered in the Warrant the motion would have to first earn the approval of the Planning Board within 45 days, and then a final approval from the Select Board.

This timeline was viewed as "unlikely" to be fulfilled by town Administer Nixon, who instead suggested that the motion be pushed and slated for addition to the town's Annual Fall Town Meeting. This would also push back preliminary discussions on money allocation for repairs until after the Fall Town Meeting. Since there are other roads to which the town has dedicated Chapter 90 repair money first, it is highly improbable that the road would be paved before the end of 2015, according to the Select Board.

So for the residents of Hawley road who got caught up in the whirlwind of small town bureaucracy, a smooth drive home at night is still a long way coming.