Harpswell selectmen seek historical evidence to support beach easement
HARPSWELL — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously June 3 to collect historical evidence that could be used to prove the public has earned permanent access to a private beach.
Cedar Beach, on Bailey Island, is off a private dirt road used by nearby residents. Visitors currently access the beach by crossing Charles Abrahamson's property at 99 Cedar Beach Road.
Abrahamson has been meeting behind closed doors with the Board of Selectmen to discuss to Cedar Beach. Although the specifics of those talks are private, last week's decision by the board suggest the town is considering establishing an easement that would require taking a portion of Abrahamson's property to secure permanent public access.
Abrahmson has declined to comment, citing the ongoing negotiations with the town.
Prior to the board's vote, board Chairman Jim Henderson spoke briefly about Cedar Beach, which he said was mentioned in several local advertisements for homes and vacation property. Henderson's remarks appeared to illustrate that the private beach is widely regarded as a public destination – a suggestion the town will now seek to prove through interviews and surveys.
An easement could trigger a legal dispute with Abrahamson, and potentially be politically unpopular – a result Henderson tried to preempt last week when he said that continued access to Cedar Beach is a significant concern for residents. He said that when he was first elected, a resident called to express concern that access to the beach would one day be cut off.
The other board members, Elinor Multer and Mark Wallace, did not discuss the issue.
Henderson said the town could begin distributing a questionnaire about Cedar Beach at the town offices. He also encouraged residents to tell selectmen about their experiences at the beach.
In a recent interview, Henderson said the public had accessed Cedar Beach for more than 20 years. The beach sits in a protected cove where its stretch of sand and shallow water is popular with families.
Henderson said maintaining public assess doesn't necessarily have to come through a public easement, which could also mean taking a portion of Abrahamson's property.
Henderson also acknowledged that the board will have to consider whether town-authorized access would increase the spot's popularity, and with that, produce unintended consequences.
Satellite images and assessing maps show more than a dozen homes in the area.
Henderson said he didn't know of many complaints about people using the beach in the past.
"It's a modestly used area now," Henderson said. "We could decide having the town not promote it to keep it that way. We also have to consider whether or not the town has responsibility for managing the space."
Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org