October 22, 2019
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Owner of Harpswell beach road says it will remain open — for now

Peter L. McGuire | The Forecaster
Peter L. McGuire | The Forecaster
A handwritten sign at the end of Cedar Beach Road on Bailey Island in Harpswell welcomes the public to the beach on Oct. 10, 2014.

HARPSWELL, Maine — One day after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ended a five-year legal battle and ruled that a Bailey Island woman can close an access road to a popular beach, the woman told town officials that she will keep Cedar Beach Road open to the public for the rest of this summer, and will review that decision on an annual basis.

Harpswell Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said Wednesday that Betsy Atkins, who owns Cedar Beach Road — the only public access to the popular tiny beach — called her Wednesday to let her know.

Atkins’ attorney, Benjamin Leoni, confirmed his client’s decision, and said she will review each year how those using the beach have behaved and treated the road. Past owners had complained about litter and unruly behavior at the beach.

“She never had much intention to change the status quo,” Leoni said. “What she was concerned about was the same thing [former road owner Charles] Abrahamson was concerned about, which was people were not treating it respectfully, and people should have the right to close off their properties to the public if the public is not respecting it.”

Co-counsel Chris Chandler said Atkins was not available on Wednesday for an interview, but he added, “As long as there aren’t any problems, I think [status quo] is probably the foreseeable future.”

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling on Tuesday overturned a 2014 Superior Court decision that granted public use of Cedar Beach Road, effectively blocking the only access road to the beach.

The decision is the latest in a years-long series of court battles over public access to private shorefront property.

On Tuesday, David Bertoni, who represented a group of Harpswell residents and the group Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supports Inc., said that he had not yet met with his clients to discuss whether they would file a motion to reconsider.

Bertoni said late Wednesday that he awaits details of Atkins’ decision, adding, “The devil is in the details.”

“Ultimately this underscores the danger of having this kind of decision exclusively in the landowners’ hands,” he said. “If she changes her mind, at any moment it could come to a crashing halt.”

Furthermore, Bertoni said, at any time Atkins could sell the property and a future owner might not be so benevolent.

“This is the first indication of any interest to allow anyone on that road, so we would want to treat it with some care,” he said.

 



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