Harpswell voters approve deal for access to private beach without protections sought by selectmen

A private road sign on Cedar Beach Road. It has been closed by neighbors Charles and Sally Abrahamson since 2011.
Dylan Martin | The Forecaster
A private road sign on Cedar Beach Road. It has been closed by neighbors Charles and Sally Abrahamson since 2011.
Posted March 17, 2014, at 10:32 a.m.

HARPSWELL, Maine — Voters at Harpswell’s annual town meeting on Saturday accepted a deeded easement for Cedar Beach, but it was without conditions added by the Board of Selectmen that were opposed by some advocates of reopening beach access.

The three added conditions in the easement deal were struck down by an amendment proposed by Michael Bourret, a member of Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters, the group responsible for making the easement deal possible.

The amendment launched a nearly two-hour debate that included opposition from the Board of Selectmen and Deputy Moderator Gordon Weil, a former selectman, who said it shouldn’t be considered because it contained substantive change to the warrant article.

But voters disagreed.

Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters previously said the conditions could have harmed its overall mission to obtain beach access, which involves a lawsuit seeking a prescriptive easement on a private road leading to the Bailey Island beach.

The three conditions would have required additional stipulations, including an easement for the privately owned portion of Cedar Beach Road, before the town could have accepted an easement for land that connects the road to Cedar Beach.

The beach parcel is owned by Jonathan and Rachel Aspatore, who agreed to offer the town an easement on the land, upon approval by town meeting voters, in exchange for the town agreeing to enforce 16 other terms and conditions.

The agreement was reached between the Aspatores and Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters during a court-ordered mediation session, and later refined by the Board of Selectmen, who included the terms and conditions in the warrant article.

The mediation, which expires on March 31, was part of a lawsuit started by Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters against the Aspatores last August that sought a court order declaring an easement exists on their beach parcel.

Accepting the easement deed means the town must enforce the 16 terms and conditions of the beach, including hiring a beach monitor and providing extra parking on nearby Robinhood Road.

There is also a dispute resolution clause in the agreement that could force the town to pay the Aspatores up to $10,000 if an arbitrator finds the town has repeatedly failed to enforce the rules and uphold its obligations. Any dispute can be initiated by the Aspatores at their discretion.

Selectmen said that without the three extra conditions, the easement would create too much liability for the town and provide too little access for too few people because Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters has yet to resolve the legal dispute over the road.

For now, they said, people with permission to access the road and people with boats are the only ones who will have access to the beach.

 

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