2014-02-21 / Front Page

Goose Rocks issue still alive

Town to file motion asking court to reconsider
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — The board of Selectmen met in executive session last Tuesday, Feb. 11 and decided to file a motion to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to reconsider its recent Goose Rocks Beach ruling.

In the Feb. 4 ruling of Robert F. Almeder vs. the Town of Kennebunkport, the court ruled to vacate the public easement on Goose Rocks Beach. The contentious decision ended a battle that dates back to 2009 between the public and 29 plaintiffs who own beachfront property.

The recent ruling overturned a previous decision made by the York County Superior Court in October 2012, which awarded the public “a recreational easement over both the intertidal and dry sands portion of the Beach,” according to the decision.

Goose Rocks Beach spans two miles of coastline in Kennebunkport and has been used by the public for more than a century.

“Regardless of the decision, I think everyone’s hope is that this summer the beach will operate the way it’s always operated,” said Werner Gilliam, director of planning and development for Kennebunkport. “It’s really too early to tell anything. Many of the plaintiffs said they weren’t going to stand in the way of the beach operating as it always had ... A large part of it will wind up being seeing how the summer plays itself out.”

Allen Daggett, vice-chairman for the

Board of Selectmen, reported that they are responding “one step at a time.”

“That beach is really important to the town of Kennebunkport and its people,” said Daggett.

Selectmen expect a response from the court in a few weeks.

Ben Leoni, a plaintiff attorney in the case from Curtis Thaxter, said the lawsuit “wasn’t started so that beachfront owners could kick off people building sandcastles.”

Rather, it was for the obnoxious exceptions.

“If a public prescriptive easement existed on their property, they no longer have the right to ask the public to leave,” Leoni said.

When asked if there were instances of excessive misconduct or reported public disturbances, Leoni said not really.

“There were just a few instances ... in the past those have all sort of been dealt with — usually the beach front owner could deal with it or ask people to leave.” Generally people stop doing that they were doing if they were asked.”

Like many similar rulings, the transgressions of a few affect the liberty of many. When asked if more moderate legal action could have been taken, Leoni said no.

“The public either has the right or doesn’t have the right, which is what’s difficult about this lawsuit. The room for in-between comes from outside of the courthouse.”

“I wish that there had been a little bit more effort put into trying to structure something that works for everybody,” Leoni said.

“The town likes to characterize this as the plaintiffs started the lawsuit. Under Maine law, if it becomes clear that the town is asserting property rights, you have a limited window to determine that the town does not have those right,” Leoni said. “It’s called going to the court under a claim of quiet title.”

Before the lawsuit officially began, in 2009, the plaintiffs and officials in the town of Kennebunkport made a last effort to try and settle matters outside of the courthouse, what Leoni referred to as a judicially assisted settlement.

“Unfortunately between the beachfront owners and the town they didn’t get to an agreement. There was some progress that was made but ultimately they didn’t quite get there,” Leoni said.

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