Advocates of public access to private Harpswell beach to fight selectmen’s plan

A private road sign on Cedar Beach Road in this September 2013 file photo. The road has been closed by neighbors Charles and Sally Abrahamson since 2011.
Dylan Martin | The Forecaster
A private road sign on Cedar Beach Road in this September 2013 file photo. The road has been closed by neighbors Charles and Sally Abrahamson since 2011.
Posted March 13, 2014, at 11 a.m.

HARPSWELL, Maine — Advocates of reopening access to Cedar Beach are at odds with the Harpswell Board of Selectmen over a beach easement warrant article that will be considered at the annual town meeting on Saturday.

The article is expected to be considered around 10 a.m., when the business portion of the town meeting at Harpswell Community School begins.

Representatives of Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters are urging voters to reject Article 72, as it was approved last week by selectmen, because it includes three conditions added at the 11th hour that they believe could harm their mission.

Instead, Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters hopes to introduce an amendment that will strip the article of the three conditions, which requires additional stipulations before the town can accept a no-cost easement for land that leads to the Bailey Island beach.

Board Chairwoman Elinor Multer, who said she was speaking on her own behalf, on Wednesday said voters should support Article 72 because removing the conditions would give the town too much liability in exchange for too little access for too few people.

Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters is suing landowners to obtain an easement for the road that leads to Cedar Beach. But because they haven’t succeeded, Multer said, accepting the beach easement without satisfying the three added conditions would only create access for boaters.

Multer said that would open up too much risk when considering a dispute resolution clause that is part of a beach-use agreement Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters previously negotiated with owners of the beach parcel, Jonathan and Rachel Aspatore, and later refined with the selectmen.

Under the agreement, the town would have to enforce 16 terms and conditions, including one that would restrict use of Cedar Beach to only residents, nonresident taxpayers and their guests.

Another would require the town to hire a beach monitor, who would have to watch for any violations and could cost up to $5,000 a year. However, a lack of road access could hamper the monitor’s ability to do his or her job.

“Will [beachgoers] strictly and carefully observe all of the requirements listed?,” Multer said. “I am sure most will, but will there be a few who don’t? We don’t know.”

Multer said the dispute resolution clause would allow the Aspatores to determine if the town has failed in its obligations to uphold the beach-use agreement, which could prove troublesome if only limited access is available.

“Will they demand a very strict interpretation of the agreement and complain about every small, unintended violation?” she said. “No one can predict.”

If the town and the Aspatores were to ever reach an impasse over the town’s obligations, the dispute would first go to nonbinding mediation.

And if the mediation isn’t successful, the dispute would go to an arbitrator, who could ultimately rule that the town repeatedly failed to uphold its obligations and could force the town to pay the Aspatores $10,000 or less, or hold a special town meeting to vote on terminating the beach easement.

Attorney Marty Eisenstein of Lewiston-based Brann & Isaacson, representing Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters, said the three conditions could be harmful because the town’s acceptance of the beach easement is based on a court-ordered mediation with the Aspatores that expires March 31.

And because satisfying the three conditions could take longer than that, it’s unclear if the beach easement offer would terminate with the mediation session.

Because of that, Eisenstein said, his group would rather obtain and ensure access to the beach first, and then deal with the other access issues.

Eisenstein said if the proposed Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters amendment fails, his group will consider seeking a public referendum to frame the issue in a way it finds acceptable.

 

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