Harpswell working on Cedar Beach access agreement

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HARPSWELL — The town’s attorney is drafting an agreement that will keep the access road to Cedar Beach open to the public.

Following a July 19 Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision that struck down an easement, Betsy Atkins, the road’s owner, announced she would allow continued public access.

But her expressed permission has not stopped some residents who doubt the security of the road’s accessibility from urging the town to consider seizing the road by eminent domain.

An agreement with Atkins would avoid that action.

“It wouldn’t be an easement, but a signed agreement or a contract,” Selectman Rick Daniel said at a Nov. 3 meeting. He later said he couldn’t elaborate on the specific details of the agreement until the attorneys involved had completed a draft of the document.

The agreement will eventually go to the Board of Selectmen for a vote.

Daniel explained that following the call for eminent domain, Atkins agreed to put her permission in writing after she held a conference call with her attorney; her partner, Bob Drew; Daniel, and Town Administrator Kristi Eiane. 

“We had a very good and very productive conversation,” Daniel said.

He said that conditions will apply to the written agreement to keep the road open, and they will most likely mirror what already applies to the beach, which forbids “rowdy and rude behavior,” loud music, pets, littering, and fires on the beach, according to signs posted at the entrance.

Atkins also requested that the remaining money allocated to the efforts of the Cedar Beach/Cedar Island supporters, Atkins’ opposing litigants in the lawsuit, be reallocated or dissolved. 

A warrant item in the town’s 2014 annual report moved to hold $110,000 to a reserve fund “for the purpose of defense and acquisition of interests in real property held or to be held by the Town or the public in the area of Cedar Beach, Cedar Island, and Small Beach on Merry’s Cove, including public access thereto,” which was approved at the 2015 Town Meeting; approximately $45,000 of the fund remains.

Atkins also said she is willing to give the town the right of first refusal in the eventual sale of the road, which Daniel called “pretty neat.”

Drew attended the meeting and made a public statement in advance of Daniel’s announcement on behalf of himself and Atkins, who was not in attendance. 

“This is an unusual case, and when you look back, nobody lost,” he said, explaining that Atkins’ consent allows the public access to the beach, while the court’s decision “ratifies” the rights of property owners across the entire state.

“Everyone that owns property knows that property rights are very important. And, as I said, it separates what America is from other countries,” Drew said, after telling selectmen that his and Atkins’ experience in international business has made them appreciative of American property law.

Yet he acknowledged that the significance of the beach to the Bailey Island community inspired “a personal, historical process for everybody involved,” and commended the community for their dignity throughout the five-year legal battle.

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

Bob Drew addresses Harpswell selectmen on behalf of his partner, Betsy Atkins, who owns the access road to Cedar Beach. “Everyone has become a winner here,” Drew said in advance of the selectmen’s announcement that Atkins would formalize her permission to let the public use the road.

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Reporter on the Brunswick/Harpswell beat. Proud Bowdoin grad that you can find reporting on municipal, school, and community news, or inside the many coffee and sandwich shops around the Midcoast. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100.