May 20, 2018
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Harpswell officials try again to reach deal on public access to Cedar Beach

Dylan Martin | The Forecaster
Dylan Martin | The Forecaster
The private portion of Cedar Beach Road has been closed by neighbors Charles and Sally Abrahamson since 2011. Citizens' group Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters filed suit against the Abrahamsons and another couple about access to the beach, and is now working with owners of other adjacent properties to negotiate an easement.
By Dylan Martin, The Forecaster

HARPSWELL, Maine — The Harpswell Board of Selectmen is resuming negotiations with property owners in another attempt to gain public access to Cedar Beach.

Selectmen are expected to meet in executive session Thursday morning to discuss the latest proposals from Jonathan and Rachel Aspatore, who own land that connects to the Bailey Island beach from a private road that was closed in 2011.

The goal of negotiations is to secure public access to the beach, which has been enjoyed by several generations of local families.

Negotiations were previously thought to be stymied by a lawsuit brought against the Aspatores in August in Cumberland County Superior Court by a citizen group called Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters.

The group filed a motion for partial summary judgement in late September to reaffirm that an easement exists on the Aspatores’ land, which the property owners have denied.

Elinor Multer, chairwoman of the three-person Board of Selectmen, on Monday said neither the Aspatores, nor their lawyer, Judy Metcalf of Eaton Peabody, are expected to attend Thursday’s meeting.

But the selectmen are expected to consider two stipulations for use of Cedar Beach proposed by Metcalf, she said.

Multer said the town’s attorney, Sally Daggett, recently received the proposal from Metcalf.

While the chairwoman said she could not divulge what the two stipulations are, they were included in a list presented by Metcalf when the Aspatores were negotiating access with Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters earlier this year.

Multer said selectmen aren’t expected to make any decisions on Thursday. Instead, she said, they are more likely to make an informal recommendation to Daggett on how to move forward with negotiations.

“Our attorney wants to know where we are all standing at this point,” Multer said. “It’s been a long time since we touched on this.”

Selectmen previously planned unsuccessfully to meet with the Aspatores twice, once via teleconference in July and in a face-to-face meeting in August.

Metcalf said the July meeting was canceled because “a further conversation at [the] time would entrench, rather than resolve the differences.”

She had also said that any lawsuit initiated against the Aspatores would “make it more difficult” for a resolution to be reached with selectmen.

A receptionist at Metcalf’s office on Wednesday said the attorney will no longer respond to requests for comment regarding the Cedar Beach issue.

Multer said the August meeting was canceled because the Aspatores were leaving their seasonal residence earlier than expected after hearing local gossip and seeing campaign signs promoting the restoration of access to Cedar Beach.

It was around that time Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters initiated the lawsuit against the Aspatores.

After the citizen group filed its motion for summary judgement in late September, both parties have filed arguments on the motion. Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills has had the arguments under consideration since early November.

In the meantime, the deadline for filing any motions is nearing in another lawsuit initiated by Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters.

The other lawsuit, which was filed in Cumberland County Superior Court in October 2012, asks the court to declare a prescriptive easement over the private portion of Cedar Beach Road, which is owned by Sally and Charles Abrahamson.

The road leads from the public portion of Cedar Beach Road to the connection beach parcel owned by the Aspatores.

It was closed by the Abrahamsons in September 2011 after citizen groups (separate from Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters) and the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust failed to raise money to purchase an easement on the private road.

The deadline for filing motions in this case is Dec. 5.

Voters at a March town meeting approved borrowing $220,000 to acquire access to Cedar Beach. The funds will be released after there is legal proof that access has been secured.

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