KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — The State Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments next month from the town and state asking the court to reconsider its ruling vacating the public right to Goose Rocks Beach.
Earlier this month, the town of Kennebunkport and state of Maine filed motions asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its Feb. 4 decision which vacated a 2012 Superior Court judgment awarding the town and back lot owners a prescriptive easement over Goose Rocks Beach.
“It’s not often that the law court grants this motion, so we are pleased that they will take another look at it,” said Kennebunkport Town Attorney Amy Tchao.
The state’s highest court will hear oral arguments on April 9 at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland, Tchao said.
Plaintiffs will have until March 14 to file motions in response, Tchao said, according to an order by the court.
In its motion to reconsider, filed on Feb. 18, the town argued that the court’s decision makes the law regarding public access on Maine beaches unclear. The town is seeking clarification on whether the court’s decision overturns previous cases that have sided with public access to the beach, such as a case in Wells Beach.
While the town argued the public’s right to access the beach for recreation, citing a history dating back to colonial times, and the Superior Court agreed, the Supreme Court said that decision was premature and that a trial should be held regarding who owns title to the beach. In its appeal, the town argues this decision is inconsistent and that the evidence regarding title was already presented in court.
The state of Maine has filed a motion for reconsideration citing a similar claim, attorneys said.
The Goose Rocks Beach case could have precedent-setting ramifications in the state. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Selectman Ron Nowell in neighboring York proposed the town buy its beaches. York is also closely watching the Goose Rocks Beach case as a dispute continues over access to the Cliff Walk.
“With the fact that other communities have been worried about this and there’s been a response by other communities, we’re hoping they will take a closer look at it,” Tchao said of the court.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs could not be reached for comment.
In an OpEd piece in this week’s York County Coast Star, plaintiff attorney Ben Leoni said the overturned ruling was actually good for public access in Maine.
“In the end, this lawsuit is not about stopping public access. It is about encouraging landowners to continue to permit it,” he wrote. “Which is why snowmobilers and other recreational users of private property care about a lawsuit that started years ago on a beach in southern Maine.”