Harpswell Town Meeting to make Cedar Beach decision

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HARPSWELL — An agreement defining the terms of use of the Cedar Beach access road will go to next month’s Town Meeting.

The terms of the agreement have yet to be finalized, although Town Administrator Eiane said Feb. 16 it will likely include a right of first refusal for the town in the possible sale of the road, and a license for use.

The Bailey Island road, owned by Betsy Atkins, is the only way to access the beach by land. It was at the center of five-year court battle over whether a public easement existed.

Last July, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court struck down the easement. Atkins, however, has kept the road open.

Since then, selectmen have met almost monthly in executive sessions to discuss a contract to ensure continued access. In addition to selectmen and town staff, Eiane said the meetings have mostly involved the town’s attorney discussing terms with Atkins’ attorney.

The Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters, litigants in the case seeking a public easement, have not stopped calling for action since the Law Court’s ruling.

In October, the group asked selectmen to appraise the road’s value, the first step needed before seizing the road by eminent domain. Selectmen denied the request, fearing it would stoke animosity between the town and Atkins, and undermine efforts a negotiated agreement.

CB/CIS President Mike Helfgott said Monday the group is not directly involved in the talks with Atkins, although members have conveyed their concerns to the town’s attorney.

“We have not been involved in the negotiations,” he said. “I do know that Marty (Eisenstein) has conveyed to the town attorney some things that we’re really concerned about.”

Eisenstein is a CB/CIS board member and a lawyer at the firm hired to represent the group in court.

Helfgott clarified Monday that fellow Brann & Isaacson attorney David Bertoni litigated the case, and Eisenstein spoke to the town attorney strictly “as a board member, but obviously with a lot of legal background … to let (the town’s attorney) know what some of our concerns might be.”

Those concerns mostly focus on ensuring permanent access, he said.

“One of the major things is, we didn’t want this to be year-to-year – we wanted a permanent solution,” Helfgott said.

He said he hopes the language will provide a way for Atkins and the town to resolve matters of “misbehavior” that occur on the roadway or beach that could threaten the agreement.

Referring to the easement that existed before the Law Court struck it down, the group advocated for language that would address the time that was given to the definition of “an infraction – in other words, what happens if somebody misbehaves.”

“I don’t want to have (it) counted against our use of the road,” he went on, in the event of isolated incidents of rowdy behavior that may or may not be associated with beach-goers.

At an October meeting, Rick Daniel, chairman of the selectmen, said the agreement, based on early talks, would likely stipulate conditions similar to those already posted at the entrance to the beach: no “rowdy and rude behavior,” loud music, pets, littering, or fire pits.

At their Feb. 18 meeting, Helfgott asked selectmen if CB/CIS could review the document before Town Meeting.

Attorneys are working to finalize the agreement as soon as possible, Eiane said, but declined to comment on the timeline or nature of the executive session negotiations. Selectmen are allowed to change the language of the warrant article up to seven days before Town Meeting.

In the meantime, the town has drafted a placeholder warrant article – “an interim step,” Eiane described – that refers to the agreements, but does not specify their details, as the town needs to meet an earlier printing deadline for the warrant in advance of the March 11 meeting.

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

A warrant article will be considered at next month’s Harpswell Town Meeting to secure public use of a private access road to Bailey Island’s Cedar Beach.

Mike Helfgott, Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters president, told Harpswell selectmen Feb. 16 the group would like to review an agreement for use of the private access road to Cedar Beach before it becomes a warrant article for Town Meeting.

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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 cferguson@theforecaster.net.
  • Chew H Bird

    5 years of lawyers, and the property owner is allowing access to the beach… If I had to put up with 5 years of lawyers and this group wanting to take what is not theirs to own, I would make the offer to allow access, on a yearly basis, contingent upon this group dissolving, never reforming, and publicly apologizing for their aberrant and greedy behavior..