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Battle line drawn: Brunswick council backs 1998 border decision

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Battle line drawn: Brunswick council backs 1998 border decision

Gerzofsky: No compelling reason to reverse agreement  

BRUNSWICK — The Town Council on Monday unanimously endorsed a 1998 state decision that settled a border dispute with Harpswell, a move that challenges their neighbor's recent Town Meeting vote to revisit the matter.

The council's vote will be manifested in a letter to Brunswick's delegation in the state Legislature, which 11 years ago ratified the compromise between the two towns.

The disagreement centered on an intertidal area near Route 123. The tract contains hundreds of acres of clam harvesting flats, and was once the central battleground in the so-called "Clam Wars."

A Harpswell group called the Carrying Place Assembly convinced a majority of voters at the March 14 Town Meeting that it had evidence dating back to 1738 proving the 1998 decision was erroneous. By a 92-61 margin, voters approved the group's request to have the Legislature revisit the issue. However, they overwhelmingly rejected funding the effort.

On Monday, with members of the Carrying Place Assembly in attendance, the Town Council agreed to send a letter showing support for the 1998 decision.

Acting Town Manager Gary Brown told the council that he believed the Legislature would be "incredibly reluctant" to reverse a previous Legislature's decision. 

Those sentiments were echoed by Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, on Tuesday. Gerzofsky, whose district includes Brunswick and Harpswell, said he and other members of the Brunswick delegation reviewed the Carrying Place Assembly's evidence, but saw no "compelling reason" to reverse the 1998 decision. 

Gerzofsky added that the dispute made its way through the court system and that both towns were forced to a compromise after exhausting legal funding, a contention that has been backed by Gordon Weil, a former Harpswell selectman who helped broker the 1998 deal.

"The courts pretty much told them to go home, act like adults and work it out," Gerzofsky said. "The people of both communities came to an agreement. ... The same people who are upset about (the agreement) now were upset about it then."

Asked if he thought the Legislature was likely to take up the issue, Gerzofsky said, "I don't think so. You pretty much have to show fraud to overturn this kind of thing. I didn't see anything like that in (the evidence). I think they have a pretty steep hill to climb to get this back into the Legislature."

Rep. Leila Percy, D-Phippsburg, has inserted a placeholder for a request to review the 1998 decision. However, text of the bill has not been submitted. Percy did not return a call seeking comment. 

The timing of the bill's submission, and which committee it's assigned to, could determine if it ever gains a public hearing. Gerzofsky said many legislative committees are backed up with bills that were submitted earlier this session.

"It really depends on where it gets referred to," he said. 

The legislative session is scheduled to end by the middle of June. Bills must emerge from a committee three days before the end of the session. Those that don't die in committee and must be reintroduced in the next session.

Because the border bill will be sponsored by Percy, the House chairs will first decide which committee it is referred to. The Senate can either approve the House-appointed committee, or send the bill back to the House with a different committee recommendation. The House leadership will then either agree with the Senate's committee assignment or propose another.

Depending on the disagreement between the House and Senate leadership, the process can delay and ultimately threaten the bill's ability to reach a public hearing.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net 

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