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Harpswell beach access group plans to resume lawsuit against landowners

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Harpswell beach access group plans to resume lawsuit against landowners

HARPSWELL — Advocates for public access at Robinhood Beach are may opt for litigation over negotiation with property owners, after town efforts to resolve issues were delayed last week.

The group called Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters said it will reopen a lawsuit against Charles and Sally Abrahamson after a mediated settlement fell through in June. The lawsuit was filed last fall, according to the group's president, Michael Helfgott.

The group is also raising funds to possibly sue Jonathan and Rachel Aspatore, who allegedly canceled a phone meeting on July 9 with the Board of Selectmen to discuss terms of use for Robinhood Beach, which is sometimes referred to as Cedar Beach, in exchange for passage over their land.

In prepared statements sent Wednesday afternoon, the Aspatores' laywer said neither she nor the Aspatores had heard about CB/CIS' inclination to sue and that doing so would "make it more difficult" for the town and her client to reach an agreement.

"My understanding based on my communication with the group’s representative in early June is that its goal is to disband if an agreement is reached with the town," Judy Metcalf of Eaton Peabody said in an e-mail. "In that circumstance, the group has acknowledged that it really has no role to play in assuring that an unworkable burden is not placed on both the town and the Aspatores when looking at the proposal for future use of the Aspatores' private property."

Metcalf, who had previously not responded to requests for comment, also disputed the Board of Selectmen's claim last week that the Aspatores had canceled the meeting.

"That is not an accurate characterization of the events," she said. "Both the town and the Aspatores have identified aspects of their discussions which bear on their fundamental perceptions of their goals on which they currently have differences."

"From our understanding, in light of those fundamental differences, all parties agreed that they wanted to reflect and regroup," Metcalf continued. "It was felt by all parties that a further conversation at this time would entrench rather than resolve the differences. The Aspatores have too much respect for the (selectmen) to waste their time, particularly where they serve as essentially volunteers for the town."

Metcalf said she and the Aspatores "are not going to comment on the terms of those discussions," citing that they have only ocurred in executive session.

Since last week's meeting was canceled, the Board of Selectmen has been trying to schedule a face-to-face meeting with the Aspatores, Chairwoman Elinor Multer said.

Metcalf did not say when the next meeting could happen.

CB/CIS doubts it ever will.

"The real honest answer is I don't have any faith the negotiations will take place," Helfgott said on Wednesday. "We've already at (the board's) behest put off this litigation a number of times before."

Multer said she doesn't know if the group's threat to sue the Aspatores would compel the property owners to seek an agreement with the town, or not.

"It's not something we're going to pay attention to," she said. "We're trying to set up a face-to-face with the Aspatores and I don't think that plan will change."

Multer said she didn't know about the decision to renew litigation until someone from the group forwarded an email from Helfgott, detailing the plans.

CB/CIS had reached a tentative settlement with the Abrahamsons that would have allowed the group to purchase an easement over the couple's private portion of Cedar Beach Road, which leads to Robinhood Beach.

But the settlement with the Abrahamsons was contingent on the Board of Selectmen reaching an agreement with the Aspatores, who own a parcel of land that connects the road and the beach.

The deadline for CB/CIS to satisfy that condition expired last month, Helfgott said earlier this month, which eventually prompted the Abrahamsons to withdraw their deal.

Metcalf said the Aspatores initiated a conversation with the Board of Selectmen about "respectful, cooperative" use of their  land after the Aspatores learned in March that a warrant article, passed by this year's Town Meeting, would involve securing beach access through their property.

The article stipulated that if access to Robinhood Beach can be obtained through litigation or negotiation, the town will appropriate up to $220,000 in bonds to secure that access.

"The conversations have been private and respectful," Metcalf said.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him onTwitter: @DylanLJMartin.