Cultures clash on Harpswell waterfront, and in court

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HARPSWELL — Wallace Shore Road, a dirt drive off of Cundy’s Harbor Road, is shaped like a fish hook.

It runs perpendicular to the ocean, then bends along the bank of the New Meadows River to reveal a string of houses, including where the Moody family has lived and fished commercially for five generations.

These days, it belongs to Scott Moody, who no longer lives on the family land, much of which has been sold, but still uses a commercially zoned strip to operate his business.

Over his lifetime, he has grown the family industry into an enterprise that includes six wholesale locations along Maine’s coast and rakes in close to $6 million annually. A new shellfish purification plant across from his property is expected to begin operating this fall.

Moody is proud of his heritage, he said, and it’s no secret, either: lobster traps are stacked high on the lawn, pickup trucks and work crews move frequently about the property, and security cameras point at his wharf and toward the road.

One of them points toward his neighbor’s house. Amber Mason claims that terrifies her.

So do the crews of men moving to and from the Moody property, some of whom she claims subject her to vulgarities and inappropriate gestures; same story, she claims, when a ditch appeared in front of her driveway, blocking her car and causing her to miss several appointments.

What Moody calls commercial activity, Mason claims is a repeated display of physical and psychological encroachment on her space and well-being – that his actions demonstrate a history of disturbing the peace on the road.

For a while, their feud played out as neighborly friction, or in the local code enforcement office.

But now it is the stereotypical clash of business and residential interests, between those who live on the waterfront for its quality of life and those who have historically made their living there.

It has also moved to Cumberland Country Superior Court, where Moody sued Mason this spring to claim ownership of a submerged intertidal ledge where he would like to build wet storage for his wholesale shellfish business.

According to Mason’s attorney, Jack Barnicle, Moody’s lawsuit is an attempt to steal her land, and reprises a legal battle he already lost in 2006. In that case, he was sued by another neighbor after he tried to claim ownership of her land.

Mason has filed counter claims to confirm her ownership of the property, which accuse Moody of “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Moody says Mason is yet another property owner whose expectations of life on a working waterfront have no relation to the reality.

“You’ve got to start sticking up for the guys that built this town,” Moody said Monday. “If (she) wanted a quaint setting, (she) should have bought a subdivision.”

File of feuds

Moody doesn’t deny that his property contains odorous trucks and early morning commotion.

But “Amber Mason was well aware of what she was building her house up against,” he said, denying that he is intentionally trying to “terrorize” her.

Mason’s family has had a presence on the road since they purchased property from the Moody family in the mid-1980s, according to court filings. In 2001, Barnicle said, Mason acquired the land beside Moody’s wharf and over several years, built the house where she now resides.

Moody claims the stakes have increased because Mason plans to build a dock that could prevent Moody from expanding Moody’s Seafood, which employs about 40 people and buys product from hundreds of harvesters up and down the coast.

Mason, on the other hand, denied through Barnicle any opposition to Moody’s business.

“The idea that she’s opposed to the fishing business is simply not correct,” Barnicle said last week in his Topsham office.

Rather, Barnicle characterized Moody’s behavior as a pattern – a history upheld by Moody’s thick file in the town code enforcement office.

It is filled equally with building and commercial permits for his business and complaints against him by neighbors that go back over a decade.

“How long do the residents of Wallace Shore Road have to endure the code violations that exist on the Moody property before further action is taken,” asked a Sept. 2016 letter to Codes Officer Fred Cantu.

Moody deflects such complaints.

“We’re not part of the martini club, as I call it,” he said in July. “And I don’t intend to (be). That’s our access,” he said of the shoreline.

To maintain that access, Moody has a habit of building things before he has permission, according to town records; many of the permits he has received are classified by the town as “after-the-fact” – he didn’t apply for them until his projects were completed.

Last year, he constructed a storage shed on his wharf using an expired permit from 2003; in June, he asked Cantu for a permit after the new building got the Department of Environmental Protection’s attention.

But others have less to do with his business, and more closely resemble Mason’s allegations that Moody is an unruly, disrespectful neighbor.

Perhaps that is best demonstrated by a drawn-out series of complaints about an RV parked on Moody’s property that was the source of “regular screaming matches, loud, vulgar language and profanities, putrid odors of improperly disposed of sewage, and sheer disrespect,” according to a complaint made to Cantu on behalf of Moody’s neighbors.

Some straddle both categories, like the security camera pointed at Mason’s house. Moody said it points at his wharf, which it was installed to record in the first place.

But Mason cited it as an example in her counter-claim as but one example of targeted intimidation, harassment, and retribution.

The litigious ledge

If this latest lawsuit against Mason is just the next chapter, Barnicle said Moody should already know the ending.

“Ultimately, Mr. Moody should have learned his lesson in 2006,” Barnicle said, when Moody was a defendant in a similar land dispute with another neighbor, Betsy Alden.

Moody then tried to use a set of old family deeds to lay claim to Alden’s land, but a West Bath District Court judge found the deeds “groundless,” according to court documents.

The judge also rejected Moody’s argument that he owned the property through adverse possession – or the legal acquisition of land through the visible and uninterrupted use of it for at least a 20-year period.

The verdict, Barnicle said, should have put Moody on notice that he wouldn’t be allowed to expand his wharf onto Mason’s property using the same legal arguments.

While Moody said the two lawsuits were obstacles to his business and lifestyle, he characterized Mason’s actions as willfully vengeful obstruction.

In his court filing, Moody claims Mason submitted an application last April to build a 150-foot dock in front of her property as a means to obstruct him from expanding his own wharf, and thus “threaten Moody’s business.”

He submitted his own application for expansion in late 2015, according to town records, but withdrew the following April when Mason notified him it would be built on her intertidal land she claimed to own.

The withdrawal didn’t stop Moody from continuing his plans to build a wet storage unit at the end of his dock, where he plans to store shellfish to be purged of sand and bacteria at his plant across the street.

“I could have put in a steel building for a third the price,” Moody said. “I tried to make it green so it would blend into the landscape.”

Moody’s expansion would also create a commercial wharf where area fishermen will be able to sell their product directly – what would be the only one of its kind on the New Meadows “from Gurnet Bridge to Bingley Island,” he said.

In January, former Harbormaster Jim Hays approved his application for a wet storage mooring at the end of his dock, which Moody wants to extend sideways at a right angle.

Mason’s dock would be recreational, but if constructed on her land, apparently legal. Though its construction has been put on hold until the land dispute is adjudicated, it meets area zoning requirements and received a DEP permit July 20.

Barnicle said to his knowledge, Mason has long been saving for and planning the project, and Moody’s insinuation of retribution is unfounded. He said he expects a judge will decide the case shortly, and in Mason’s favor, given the 2006 verdict.

If Mason prevails, Moody said it will be another threat to his survival as a commercial fisherman.

He said what has transpired on Wallace Shore Road is part of a pattern of behavior: his neighbors trying to push him out.

“It’s not easy to find a commercial lot,” he said of the property he inherited, where his two sons also fish.

With them in mind, he said he doesn’t care what the neighbors think, as long as he can grow and maintain his business.

His neighbors, he said, have a different interest in the waterfront.

“They’re out there to drink a martini,” Moody said, “and we’re down there to make money.”

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Updated Aug. 23, 2017, to clarify Mason’s residency, Moody’s residency, and the nature of their dispute.

Scott Moody’s commercial wharf extends from his property on Wallace Shore Road along the New Meadows River in Cundy’s Harbor. Behind it is the home of Amber Mason; Moody has sued her for ownership of a submerged ledge where he wants to expand his dock.

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or