Harpswell considers creating public access to private beach

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HARPSWELL — The town is considering public access to Cedar Beach, a private beach used by sunbathers and beachcombers.

The Board of Selectmen is expected to discuss establishing a history of public access to the Bailey Island beach at its June 3 meeting. 

The board has recently held several closed-door meetings on the matter. Given the justification for holding executive sessions, it could mean that the town is considering acquiring property in the area.

Beach-goers currently access Cedar Beach through Charles Abrahamson’s property at 99 Cedar Beach Road, a private dirt road used by neighbors. According to Cumberland County tax assessment data, Abrahamson has owned the property since 1998.

Abrahamson declined to comment, citing ongoing discussions with the town.

Selectmen Chairman Jim Henderson said he couldn’t specify the nature of the private meetings, but he did say the board has been discussing Cedar Beach with the town attorney.

The June 3 meeting should shed some light on the issue, since the board is expected to discuss whether historical evidence supports creating a permanent easement at Cedar Beach. The evidence will be based on what Henderson described as more than 20 years of public use.

“We’re mostly seeing if we can document the public use,” Henderson said. “We’ll be interviewing people and seeing what their experiences have been. Based on those discussions we’ll see if the public has acquired a right to be there permanently.”

Henderson said that maintaining public assess doesn’t necessarily have to come through a public easement, which could also mean taking a portion of Abrahamson’s property.

According to Henderson, Cedar Beach has traditionally attracted families. He said its sheltered location and shallow water have made it a popular place for parents to bring their children.

Henderson acknowledged that the board will have to consider whether town-authorized access would increase the spot’s popularity, and with that, produce unintended consequences.

Satellite images and assessing maps show more than a dozen residences in the area. Most homes appear to be on small lots.

Henderson said that he didn’t know of many complaints about people using the beach in the past.

“It’s a modestly used area now,” Henderson said. “We could decide having the town not promote it to keep it that way. We also have to consider whether or not the town has responsibility for managing the space.”

Henderson said he’s in favor retaining public access. How that will be manifested depends on resident input, he said.

Henderson added that if the board votes to proceed on June 3, the town will begin documenting and interviewing residents and beach users.

“This is could take several months, not a week or two, ” he said.

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

Sidebar Elements

Cedar Beach on Bailey Island, Harpswell, at high tide at noon on May 29. Although there is no public parking, Charles Abrahamson allows beach-goers to walk across his property.