Harpswell neighbors in dispute over dock

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HARPSWELL — A Gun Point couple are asking selectmen to reconsider approval of a neighbor’s wharf that they say is too close to their own float and was not installed according to plan.

In February, the Board of Selectmen approved a wharf application from Sean McCormack and Martha Brant, over the objections from their neighbors, Bill and Joyce Kelley.

The Kelleys argued that the proposed wharf would obstruct navigation from their own dock, which was already complicated by nearby exposed rock ledges.

The Kelleys now want selectmen to revisit their decision, schedule a new public hearing on the wharf application, and possibly require Brant and McCormack to remove the wharf. 

Selectmen tabled the matter, pending a discussion with Joseph LeBlanc, the contractor who designed and installed the wharf.

According to the approved application, the wharf is required to be placed 110 feet “plus or minus” to the north of the Kelleys’ dock.

But in a presentation to selectmen Aug. 21, Bill Kelley claimed his neighbors installed their wharf only 99 feet from his.

Although the 11-foot difference might seem small, it is impeding the couple’s navigation, Kelley said. According to Joyce Kelley, the couple were no longer able to navigate their boat away from their dock, except at medium to high tide.

Moreover, Bill Kelley claimed that Brant, McCormack, and LeBlanc, ignored the dimensions approved by selectmen.

“We believe the applicants should only be allowed to install the wharf as proposed to you and approved by you,” Kelley said. “If they install it incorrectly, it should be removed.”

In response, John Loyd, a lawyer representing Brant and McCormick, said his clients acted within their rights.

The application approved by selectmen allowed installation of a wharf 110 feet “plus or minus” from the Kelleys, Loyd said. The approval therefore acknowledged the “inherent imprecision” of wharf location, which is subject to changes in wind and tides, he said.

“What you approved was the inability to be totally precise,” Lloyd told selectmen, charging that the Kelleys were attempting to appeal the selectmen’s decision without going through a formal appeal process.

He said his clients were “rocked back on their heels” by the news that they could be forced to remove their dock.

In a letter to the Kelleys earlier this month, Code Enforcement Officer Bill Wells explained that the town does not have a space requirement between wharfs, and pointed to a Maine Department of Environmental Protection inspection report from July that found the position of Brant and McCormack’s wharf did not obstruct navigation in the area.

Wells told selectmen that “plus or minus” is usually understood as 10 percent of the total in either direction, although there is no formal yardstick.

Selectman Elinor Multer said the board would have to decide if the 11-foot difference is an acceptable variation, given the “plus or minus” allowance.

“The issue here is where the line is drawn,” Multer said.

This story was edited on Sept. 2 to correct the first name of Martha Brant.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.

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