Both sides disappointed with Harpswell-Brunswick border talks

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BRUNSWICK — A bill that would change the boundary between Brunswick and Harpswell is heading back to the Legislature Friday for another work session.

When the Committee on State and Local Government last met to discuss LD 69 on Feb. 16, legislators told the two towns to come up with a compromise before returning to Augusta.

But after two meetings about the issue, those efforts seem to have ended in a stalemate.

This is the second time that Harpswell residents have tried to change the boundary with Brunswick. The first effort ended unsuccessfully in May 2009 when the State and Local Government committee defeated the bill.

Representatives of both towns said they were disappointed with the most recent meeting on the issue, which took place April 28 at the Brunswick Town Council chambers.

“We were very disappointed, we expected more from Harpswell,” said Councilor Ben Tucker, a member of Brunswick’s bargaining team along with Councilor Suzan Wilson and Mark Latti, vice chairman of the town’s Marine Resources Committee.

“I think it was a non-event, nothing was accomplished,” said John Loyd, who represented Harpswell along with Town Administrator Kristi Eiane and Selectman Jim Henderson.

Harpswell’s team believed the two sides would be able to agree on an acceptable solution to the problem, which did not happen, and Brunswick’s disappointment stemmed from expectations that Harpswell would come to the meeting with a detailed legal document that addressed Brunswick’s concerns about issues ranging from law enforcement to regulation of shellfish harvesting.

Tucker said he was unsatisfied with what Harpswell presented: a draft of a bill with a one-paragraph description of the boundary between the two towns, one sentence giving Brunswick regulatory authority over the intertidal zone, and another sentence repealing the 1998 law that established the current border.

Loyd described the document as “simple and elegant.” He said it was “an easy-to-understand response to the issues Pat (Scully, Brunswick’s lawyer,) raised in his memo.”

“When you say it’s simple, that’s an understatement,” Tucker responded.

He said the document was essentially the same as Harpswell’s initial proposal, which gave Brunswick the power to regulate and enforce all town laws as if it owned the land, except for taxation of the portion of Harpswell Neck that would become part of Harpswell.

“Our expectation was that we would get a lot of detailed answers, not just a repetition of the mantra that Brunswick would keep its power,” he said.

But Loyd maintained that the new proposal addressed Brunswick’s concerns about enforcement and regulations without being too demanding of the town, or negatively impacting Brunswick clam harvesters.

“We’re trying here to have an agreement that will satisfy our interest in having our historic boundary returned. Our intention is not to do it on the backs of Brunswick and certainly (not) on the backs of the shell fishermen,” he said.

Where the historic boundary is was also up for debate at the meeting. Tucker argued that Harpswell’s description was confusing and archaic because it used language from a 1738 law. He said the language from the 1998 agreement between the two towns is much easier to understand.

Loyd disagreed, and said “you can’t ask for a more definitive markable boundary than the high-water line.” He also said the town had hired a surveyor to pinpoint exactly where the boundary crosses Harpswell Neck, a statement that led Tucker to wonder why Harpswell would be surveying the property now and not when this issue started.

“You’re doing a survey now after you’ve introduced this legislation, which to me indicates that you didn’t survey this, you don’t have a survey, and this isn’t clear,” he said.

The two teams continued to butt heads throughout the hour-long meeting, with the Brunswick team questioning what Harpswell residents would gain by changing the boundary.

“Why is it in the interest of two municipalities to move a boundary so that land moves from one … to the other, but the other municipality has all the regulatory authority?,” Scully said. “I don’t frankly understand what Harpswell gets if it gets this, other than reopening the door to litigation.”

That question prompted Loyd to tell Scully it was “pointless to go there. We are adamant that we want our historic town line returned. … We’re not going to gain any ground by talking about why we’re doing it. We’re doing it.”

Given the inability to reach consensus, it will likely be up to state lawmakers to make a decision – which is what the State and Local Government Committee was trying to avoid.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

Sidebar Elements

Brunswick shell fishermen face loss of 15 licenses

BRUNSWICK — The parking lot of the Hawthorne School was filled with pickup trucks Wednesday night as shell fishermen gathered to hear an update on LD 69, the bill that would restore the historical boundary between Harpswell and Brunswick.

The news, from Brunswick’s perspective, was not good.

“If it’s passed as is, this means the loss of 15 licenses in Brunswick,” said Mark Latti, vice chairman of the Marine Resources Committee. He said the town distributes 48 licenses to residents.

The town calculates the number of licenses it hands out based on a survey of clams in the mud flats, Latti explained. Because Middle Bay, which would switch to Harpswell if the law is enacted, makes up about 30 percent of Brunswick’s harvest area, the town wouldn’t be able to issue as many licenses as it does now.

Members of Harpswell’s negotiating team have repeatedly assured Brunswick that the town would be allowed to continue to manage the Middle Bay flats, but Brunswick harvesters and town officials are skeptical.

“No one really believes that,” Latti said. “Our feeling is if they don’t ask for it now, they’re going to ask for it later.”

Latti and other members of the Marine Resources Committee urged the fishermen to call their state representatives and attend the State and Local Government committee meeting in Augusta on Friday morning, even though it coincides with low-tide.

Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx, D-Brunswick, and Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, who represents both Harpswell and Brunswick, both attended the meeting. They offered the clammers advice on what to tell the committee.

“Reinforce that it’s about the jobs,” du Houx said.

Gerzofsky had similar advice, although he noted he had “an ethical obligation” to represent both communities.

“People in Harpswell are looking for a historical boundary, and people in this room are looking for a livelihood. If we keep the argument on that and not on property lines, you’ve got a strong argument,” Gerzofsky said.

Speaker after speaker warned the fishermen that if they are unable to convince the committee to rule in Brunswick’s favor, the consequences would be devastating to the harvesting community.

“This is very real, this is very, very real,” Marine Resource Officer Dan Deveraux said. “If we lose Middle Bay, we might as well turn Brunswick into a recreational (harvesting) town.”

Deveraux added that he has already issued summonses to a few Harpswell harvesters who were trying to dig in Middle Bay because they believe it is only a matter of time before Harpswell takes control of the flats.

— Emily Guerin