Lawmakers tell Harpswell, Brunswick to discuss border dispute

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AUGUSTA — Legislators Wednesday said Harpswell and Brunswick residents will have to work together to come up with a compromise in their border dispute.

After a brief workshop, the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee tabled legislation that would change the town line. The committee said each town needed time to review the other’s arguments and reach a consensus.

Harpswell’s goal is to restore the historic boundary between the towns, which residents say was erroneously moved in a 1998 agreement. But representatives from Brunswick are concerned that the town will lose access to the Middle Bay clam flats if the line is changed, and maintain that the issue was settled in 1998.

Each town’s arguments, as expressed in a Feb. 9 public hearing, were reviewed at the beginning of the workshop. Then committee members discussed new information each town brought to the meeting.

Brunswick Town Manager Gary Brown supplied a 2 1/2-page list of Brunswick land owners whose property abuts Middle Bay and whose taxes could be affected if the historical boundary is restored.

The list created some confusion for committee members, who had been told that only the five properties between the historical line and the present Harpswell-Brunswick border would be affected.

“I feel a little duped after sitting here for as long as we did and being told there’s not land involved, just this little piece up here,” said Sen. Nancy Sullivan, D-Biddeford, referring to the five parcels between the two town lines.

“(The new document is) really stretching what I think we were told originally,” she said.

Sullivan said the new documents made it seem like Brunswick was primarily concerned about taxes, while during the public hearing most of the discussion was about clam flats.

“If indeed this was the concern and not the flats, we should have heard that,” she said.

Former Brunswick Town Manager Don Gerrish said the list was only intended to show the tax value of all the properties that abut Middle Bay. He said that if the line changes, those land owners may have docks or moorings in Harpswell, but pay property taxes in Brunswick.

Harpswell’s lobbyist, Robert Howe, and members of the Carrying Place Assembly, the group of Harpswell residents who support changing the town line, presented the other piece of new information at the workshop.

They proposed restoring the historic town boundary while granting Brunswick exclusive control over the clam flats. They said such a  compromise would “satisfy all the conditions stated at the hearing” and be a “win-win situation.”

But the document appeared to create confusion for representatives from Brunswick, who said they had not seen the proposal before Wednesday morning. As a result, the committee decided to table the issue until both towns could review the information.

Rep. Michael Celli, R-Brewer, closed the meeting by encouraging the towns to meet before the next workshop, which is not yet scheduled. By working together, he said, “you can come up with something that is probably acceptable in some form or fashion to both of you, where as if you put it in our hands you may come up with something that’s not acceptable to any of you.”

Harpswell’s Board of Selectmen formally invited the Brunswick Town Council to discuss the border dispute in April 2009, but the council declined the offer.

But this time could be different. After the workshop, representatives from the towns were speaking with each other and discussing when to meet.

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, who represents both towns, said he would be a witness to the up-coming discussion.

“I’m the only neutral party,” Gerzofsky said.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net

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