Trial looms as Harpswell prepares to vote on beach funding

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HARPSWELL — With a related lawsuit about to go to court, voters will go to the polls in three weeks to vote on $5,200 in supplemental funding to fulfill the town’s end of an agreement reached with owners of a Baily Island beach this winter.

Residents have been battling with private landowners over public access to Cedar Beach, and the road leading to it, for almost four years.

Depending on the outcome of next week’s trial on public access to a privately owned portion of Cedar Beach Road, June’s vote could ensure full public access to the shoreline for the first time since the start of the controversy. 

In March, Harpswell voters approved an easement deed granted to the town by Rachel and Jonathan Aspatore that ensures public access to the small part of the beach owned by the couple.

In exchange for the easement, the town agreed to hire a part-time monitor to watch over the beach from July 1 to Labor Day and to erect a sign outlining the rules governing beach use.

Under terms of the agreement, only town residents and their guests are allowed on the beach, and fires, motor vehicles, trash, pets, mass gatherings, and camping are banned on the property. 

Last week, the Board of Selectmen approved a special Town Meeting warrant asking voters to approve spending $4,000 for the monitor and $1,200 for the sign.

Residents will have an opportunity to discuss the funding request during a public hearing at the board’s May 29 meeting.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said it would be a surprise if residents voted against the funding request. 

“If the voters were supporting this at town meeting in March, I would hope there would be support for the town to meet its obligations,” she said in an interview at the town office. 

Proposed changes to the town’s Robinwood Road Parking Ordinance to comply with the Astapores easement will also have a May 29 public hearing. 

The easement requires the town to create 17 parking spaces on the south side of the portion of Robinhood Road owned by the town. The town’s ordinance needs to be amended in order to add the spaces. 

Court case

The public is still prohibited from accessing Cedar Beach by foot from the dead-end section of the road owned by Charles and Sally Abrahamson, but what is expected to be a four-day trial beginning May 27 could change that. 

The trial, scheduled in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland, is part of a 2012 lawsuit filed against the Abrahamsons by the Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters group. 

Marty Eisenstein, the attorney representing CB/CIS, said the group is asking Justice Nancy Mills for a prescriptive easement for public access to the road. 

If successful, CB/CIS’s suit could ensure road access without requiring the town to pay for it, Eisenstein said.

In 2013, voters approved a $220,000 bond to purchase an easement from the Abrahamsons. It has until the end of 2014 to use the bond, but there has been no movement in negotiations with the couple, according to Eiane. 

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 or Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.