Delays over Harpswell beach access worry advocates

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HARPSWELL — An important deadline for reopening public access to Robinhood Beach is in jeopardy due to delayed negotiations with abutting landowners.

Michael Helfgott, president of the group leading the renewed effort to reopen access to the Bailey Island beach also known as Cedar Beach, said a delayed meeting between the Board of Selectman and land owners Jonathan and Rachel Aspatore threatens another agreement vital for restoring access.

“We’re encouraging them to be diligent and speedy,” Helfgott said. “But just as we felt in the past they were delaying us, we also wonder if they’re delaying the town as well.”

His group, Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters, reached a tentative agreement with Charles and Sally Abrahamson to purchase a public easement on a private road that leads to the beach.

But the agreement required the group to reach an accord with the Aspatores by the end of July for use of a parcel of land leading to Robinhood Beach.

Helfgott said the advocates are now trying to extend the deadline with the Abrahamsons for a couple months to give the Board of Selectmen more time to negotiate with the Aspatores.

“This has become even more problematic,” he said, “so we’re having discussions again with the Abrahamsons to see if we can keep the road option alive, at least for another month or two.”

The Board of Selectmen was scheduled to meet in executive session with the Aspatores on June 21, but the meeting was cancelled for undisclosed reasons.

“I can’t go into that,” Board Chairwoman Elinor Multer said.

The meeting, to negotiate terms of use for Robinhood Beach in exchange for allowing people to cross the Aspatores’ land, was rescheduled for July 9.

Multer said she understand the concerns of Helfgott and his group.

“We’re going at it as fast as we can,” she said. “I understand their concern, but it takes two to tango and there’s nothing much we can do about that.”

Representatives for the Abrahamsons and Aspatores have not responded to repeated requests for comment.

Helfgott said CB/CIS believes there is a legal right to walk over the Aspatores’ parcel to reach the beach, under terms of a deed that mentions the existence of an easement for local residents. He said the group won’t consider litigation unless negotiations fail.

Access to Robinhood Beach was closed in 2011 when the Abrahamsons barred the public from the private portion of Cedar Beach Road leading to the area.

When CB/CIS began negotiations with the Abrahamsons last fall, the group originally tried negotiating access to a smaller beach to the west of Robinhood Beach, owned by the Abrahamsons, Helfgott said.

He said when the price was revealed to be too much, the group changed its focus to Robinhood Beach.

Helfgott said that’s when the group got involved with the Aspatores, who had previously expressed concern about unruly beach-goers crossing their land.

“All we’re trying to do is keep that right alive,” Helfgott said. “We believe in both cases we have a good legal case.”

But it’s not just about residents having a legal right to the beach, he said.

Helfgott said it’s also about honoring the wishes of the previous owners of the Aspatores’ property, who said in their quitclaim deed that an easement on the parcel exists for Harpswell residents.

“This was their legacy to the town,” he said. “That deed they had to the Aspatores does nothing more than memorialize their past purposes and memorializes their intention to make (the land) a legacy gift.”

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.

An previous version of this story incorrectly suggested that the Board of Selectmen is party to an agreement between Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters and Charles and Sally Abrahamson. The board is not acting on the beach group’s behalf.