October 18, 2019
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Couple takes Owls Head waterfront access case to US Supreme Court

Stephen Betts | BDN
Stephen Betts | BDN
Owls Head maintains that it has an easement along this paved area parallel to the shore, but the homeowners claim that it is their driveway.

OWLS HEAD, Maine — A New York couple who have been fighting to stop the public from crossing what they claim is their driveway adjacent to Rockland Harbor are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their appeal.

The petition on behalf of Darlene and Lewis Edwards III of Saugerties, New York, was filed Friday with the nation’s highest court.

The couple’s attorney, Glenn Israel, acknowledged that the Supreme Court hears fewer cases than it rejects, but he would not speculate on the chances of the justices hearing this appeal concerning property rights. He said he expects that the court will decide whether to hear the appeal sometime in late fall.

The attorney for Owls Head, William Dale, said Tuesday it generally takes four of the justices to agree to hear a case for a petition to be granted. He said only about one in 100 petitions to hear an appeal are granted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The town is involved because Owls Head has a public easement, which it considers a road, across the disputed property. The Edwardses claim the paved area on their property is their driveway and that neither the town nor their neighbors have the right to use it to reach Rockland Harbor.

The petition filed Friday on behalf of the Edwardses claims that the Maine supreme court’s ruling in December 2015 amounted to a judicial taking in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The state high court upheld the town’s easement that allows for access to the beach by neighbors.

The case has been in the court system for more than four years and cost taxpayers more than $100,000 so far.

The Edwardses purchased the 1.7-acre lot at the end of Coopers Beach Road in March 2011 for $274,300 after a bank foreclosed on the previous owners. Coopers Beach Road runs from North Shore Drive to near the harbor.

The Edwardses maintained that they put up a no trespassing sign on the driveway that runs parallel to the shore but that a neighbor removed it and then she and other neighbors began repeatedly crossing the property. In November 2011, they filed a lawsuit to block their neighbors from crossing their property and also to challenge the town’s public easement, which allows the municipality to plow and sand the road.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm had earlier sided with the town and neighbors in a July 2014 decision. The Edwardses appealed that ruling to the state supreme court.

Hjelm had stated in his ruling that Coopers Beach has been described as a colony, for good reason.

“Homeowners, both year-round and seasonal, have developed strong friendships with each other. As an aspect of the relationships among them, they sometimes walk on or otherwise use each other’s property. Families visited with each other, and there were neighborhood parties and events,” Hjelm stated in his ruling.

He also said that use of the beach by neighbors was a long-standing practice.

From 1973 to 1986, the town hired contractors to sand and plow Coopers Beach Road, which was then a private road composed of four separate branches all the way to the cul-de-sac located on what is now the Edwardses’ property. After the town learned that it was not allowed to expend public funds to maintain private roads, the town announced its intent to cease plowing private roads at the end of the 1985-86 winter season. Residents in that area then signed a petition that led to the town vote to declare a public easement.

In their latest appeal, the Edwardses argue that it is important for the U.S Supreme Court to accept the case to clarify the law regarding the constitutionality of state court decisions that eliminate or impinge upon existing private property rights.



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