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Public access to Harpswell beaches further restricted

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Public access to Harpswell beaches further restricted

HARPSWELL — Access to Cedar and Robinhood beaches on Bailey Island, once tricky, is now all but impossible.

For three weeks, the path leading to both the little and big beaches on the north end of Bailey has been blocked off with a chain and no-trespassing sign. Charles and Sally Abrahamson, who own the adjacent property and the private road leading up to the path, notified the Board of Selectmen of their decision to block off the path in a Sept. 6 letter.

"Sally and I would like to fore warn you before you get to many calls that we have closed the access to Cedar Beach & Robinhood Beach," the letter reads. "We held off doing this until most of the children had gone back to school but now we must do what we must do."

The loss of access to the beaches comes at a time when selectmen and town residents have become increasingly worried about securing public access to the shore. In the past few months, town staff and selectmen have heard complaints about three separate town landings that are increasingly difficult for the public to use.

Cedar Beach is different than two of those landings because it is used almost entirely for recreation, while Hildredth Road and Steamboat Wharf landings are frequented by fishermen and clammers.

For a while it appeared that town staff, citizen groups and the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust were going to reach a deal with the Abrahamsons that would preserve the landowners' privacy while ensuring that Harpswell residents could access Cedar and Robinhood beaches.

At the annual Town Meeting in March, voters allocated $220,000 to acquire a public access easement to Cedar Beach, also known as the little beach, and the portion of Cedar Beach Road that is owned by the Abrahamsons.

Because that was significantly less than the $950,000 that the couple was seeking, The Friends of Cedar Beach citizen group formed and was working with Harpswell Heritage Land Trust to try to raise the additional funds needed for the easement.

But those efforts fell through in July in an ownership dispute over a portion of Cedar Beach Road.

The Abrahamsons' Sept. 6 letter to the Board of Selectmen offered a final opportunity to secure access to the beach. But unlike previous negotiations, their new offer was only for an easement on Cedar Beach Road, not on the beach itself, for a total of $500,000.

At the Sept. 15 Board of Selectmen meeting, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane made it clear that the town isn't authorized to act on the new offer because it didn't include the beach itself. In addition, the Abrahamsons only gave the town until Oct. 1 to decide whether to accept the offer, which board Chairwoman Elinor Multer said is unrealistic.

"I feel very strongly that there is no question that we are not empowered to do this because it does not include the beach," she said.

Eiane said Wednesday that the Abrahamsons have the legal right to block access to their land.

But in the meantime, Harpswell residents may have a tough time reaching Robinhood Beach, which they are allowed to use, without trespassing on the Abarahamsons' property.

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