Voters in Kennebunkport will decide today whether they want to continue paying for the legal fight over Goose Rocks Beach.

They will be asked at town meeting whether they want to spend as much as $300,000 in the coming year to keep fighting a group of beach property owners in court. The $300,000 is part of a $385,000 request to fund the town’s legal fees account.

The plaintiffs, who sued in October 2009, argue that the town is violating their property rights by allowing the public to use areas that are privately owned.

The town contends that the entire length of the 2-mile beach is public, from the low-water mark to the dry sand above the high-water mark.

Selectman Allen Daggett is optimistic that residents will continue to support the town in the lawsuit.

“This is something that the townspeople really want to take care of: their beach. And it is their beach,” Daggett said.

Last year, voters approved $250,000 for the litigation. The town spent about $150,000 on the case the previous year, said Town Manager Larry Mead.

The plaintiffs argue that while they may have allowed others to use their property, it is not actually public. They say people have increasingly been using their property without permission. There also has been concern that the town wants to use the beach to attract tourists, which town officials have denied.

The lawyers for the town and the plaintiffs hoped the case would go to trial in the fall, but that time frame may be unlikely. The case involves parties that support the town’s position, including the state, the Surfrider Foundation and a different group of Goose Rocks Beach residents. A few residents are working with the plaintiffs, but they have their own lawyers.

One of the issues is the town’s request for the judge to issue a summary judgment based on a 1684 deed. The town argues that the deed gave Kennebunkport land that includes the areas claimed by the plaintiffs.

According to the town, it conveyed upland areas to individuals in the 1700s but retained title to the beach in trust for the public. Because of that severance of the upland areas from the beach, the argument goes, the plaintiffs could not possibly own the beach.

“You don’t have a right or title to something that was never conveyed to you in the first place,” said Town Attorney Amy Tchao.

In their response, the plaintiffs argue that the town’s core assertion is false. They argue that the 1684 deed confirmed that “Cape Porpus” landowners would not be ousted by Massachusetts but that it never gave land to the town.

The conveyances and the severance of the upland from the beach as described by the town are based on a “far-fetched rewrite of the history and geology of the area,” according to a memorandum from the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs, in their own request for partial summary judgment, argue that a state Supreme Court case gives property owners with modern titles and long-term possession presumption of a legal grant over ancient documents like the 1684 deed.

“They don’t dispute that our people have been in title, possession and control for the past 200 years,” said Sidney “Pete” Thaxter, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

[email protected]