Defendant in lawsuit over public access to private Harpswell beach makes deal to buy road ‘to keep it private’
HARPSWELL, Maine — Betsy Atkins, a defendant in a lawsuit over public access to a Bailey Island beach, is in the process of buying the object of the litigation, Cedar Beach Road, from her co-defendants in the case.
According to a transcript of last month’s 2 ½-day trial in Cumberland County Superior Court, Atkins testified that she approached Charles and Sally Abrahamson six to nine months ago with an offer to buy the road, and now she has signed agreement with them.
“This is currently a private road, and I seek to make sure it remains a private road,” Atkins told the court.
Atkins is a successful business executive, entrepreneur and member of boards of directors of several companies, according to her personal website. She bought land on Bailey Island about 10 years ago and spends summers there.
Atkins testified that she is annoyed by noise, littering and inconsiderate behavior of people who use the road when it is open to the public.
“In the past, it gets a lot more traffic, and there is the impact of rubbish and garbage and dirty diapers and toilet paper and other debris; and people who are wandering down the road, walk into my yard, and their pets walk into my yard. And the noise impacts me. And I hope to keep it private,” Atkins said.
The Abrahamsons and Atkins, through her company, Gables Real Estate LLC, are being sued by Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters, a group of local activists seeking a public easement along the road to the beach.
At the trial, Atkins testified that she could not remember how much she has agreed to pay for the road.
Under the agreement, the Abrahamsons cannot transfer the property to another party, Atkins testified. A final agreement is on hold while parties wait for a bank to release a mortgage on the road, she said.
“She controls the destiny of this case,” plaintiff’s attorney David Bertoni said in an interview this week. A decision by Justice Nancy Mills is expected by the end of summer.
A judgment in the trial, however, could change the outcome of the sale, said Christian Chandler, a lawyer with the Curtis Thaxter law firm, which is representing Atkins and the Abrahamsons.
“In any purchase-and-sale agreement, obviously if there is a major change in the underlying property, such as granting an easement or doing anything of that nature, obviously that changes the nature of the sale because you’re buying something different than what you contracted to buy,” Chandler said.
The Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters group filed the lawsuit against the Abrahamsons in Cumberland County Superior Court in November 2012. In March 2013, Gables LLC intervened in the case on the Abrahamsons’ side.
According to court records, Atkins brought on Curtis Thaxter to represent her in March, about a month before the original April trial date. The firm has represented property owners in other public-access cases, most recently the York County case that limited access to Goose Rocks beach in Kennebunkport.
Atkins’ property deed gives her a right-of-way easement to Cedar Beach Road.
Although Charles Abrahamson testified at the trial that her right of access does not extend to the beach, Atkins still has legal rights to the road, entitling her to join in the lawsuit as a defendant against a public interest just as if she owned it outright, said Ben Leoni, an attorney from Curtis Thaxter.
“Ultimately, in terms of this case, I don’t think it really matters who owns it,” Leoni said.
Whether Atkins has a deeded easement to the road or legal ownership of it probably won’t make a difference in how hard she may be willing to fight to prevent a public easement on the road, he said.
A call to the Abrahamson’s Harpswell home was not returned Wednesday, and attempts to contact Atkins through her attorneys were unsuccessful.
“She’s usually pretty protective,” said Leoni. “She likes to sort of stay in the background of things.”