Harpswell group clears 1 hurdle for Cedar Beach access
HARPSWELL — An agreement has been reached that could help restore public access to Cedar Beach.
But there are still some hurdles to clear.
The Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters struck a deal last week with Jonathan and Rachel Aspatore that would allow beach-goers to walk across land owned by the couple that leads to the Bailey Island beach.
The agreement was reached Feb. 3 in an 11-hour mediation session, ordered by the Cumberland County Superior Court as part of a lawsuit CB/CIS filed in August 2013 against the Aspatores. The suit sought a court order declaring that an easement exists on the land.
The deal would involve the Aspatores conveying an easement to the town, which would allow town residents and their guests to access the beach. In exchange, beach-goers would have to abide by terms and conditions for use of the beach.
CB/CIS and the Board of Selectmen previously tried to negotiate with the Aspatores, but those attempts failed because the parties couldn't reach a consensus.
The new agreement suggests something has changed.
Attorney Martin Eisenstein of Lewiston-based Brann & Isaacson, who represents CB/CIS, said he cannot disclose the terms of the agreement until after they are discussed with the Board of Selectmen.
But he did say the easement would come at no cost to the town.
"The easement cannot be revoked under any circumstances," Eisenstein said, "but does provide for a flexible method for the property owners to remedy any violations of the terms and conditions."
The town's acceptance of the easement would be subject to approval at the March 15 Town Meeting.
And if a resolution is ultimately reached with the Aspatores, CB/CIS would drop its lawsuit against the property owners, Eisenstein said.
But board Chairwoman Elinor Multer said nothing is certain until the selectmen can see the agreement and see what implications may exist for the town.
Selectmen would have to approve a warrant article for agreement at a regular meeting before sending it to Town Meeting.
"I assumed that the agreement either states or implies certain things on the part of the town," Multer said, "and until we see the underlying assumptions for the town we won't be making any plans."
Nevertheless, Multer said, selectmen continue to support CB/CIS' goal to restore access to Cedar Beach.
Even if the deal with the Aspatores is approved by Town Meeting, it would only clear one of the two major hurdles for restoring access to Cedar Beach.
The other is another lawsuit CB/CIS filed in October 2012 in Cumberland County Superior Court against Charles and Sally Abrahamson, who own the portion of Cedar Beach Road that leads to Cedar Beach.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare that a prescriptive easement exists on the Abrahamsons' road, which they closed to pedestrian access in September 2011 after previous citizen groups and a local land trust failed to raise money to purchase an easement.
Eisenstein said he doesn't expect the lawsuit to be harmed by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court's recent ruling that 29 property owners in Kennebunkport have a right to restrict public access to Goose Rocks Beach.
"Goose Rocks Beach is predicated on many parcels of land that comprised two miles of beach," he said, "and one of the basis for the court's opinion was that there needed to be proof for an easement for each of those parcels."
As for the Cedar Beach Road case, Eisenstein said, "we have one parcel for which we have gathered and marshaled a number of components of facts that distinguishes our case from the Goose Rocks case."
"We knew what we would need to encounter and we're prepared to deal with that," he continued. "We have developed a strong set of facts to argue for an easement."
Eisenstein said a trial in the lawsuit could happen later this year.
If full access to Cedar Beach is ensured, the town may borrow up to $220,000 to help secure that access. The borrowing was approved at last year's March Town Meeting with major public support.
However, if easements to help access Cedar Beach are not secured on or before Dec. 31, the town's authorization for borrowing the money will lapse.