Tuesday, December 10, 2013
A judge has ruled in favor of the town of Kennebunkport in upholding the public's right to use Goose Rocks Beach for recreation.
In this July, 27, 2011 file photo, a small public path leads to a small section of public beach at Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport.
John Patriquin / Staff Photographer
In a ruling dated Tuesday, Superior Court Justice G. Arthur Brennan said the town had demonstrated that the public established the right to use the 2-mile-long beach because of longtime continuous use.
"There is no question here that members of the general public have been using Goose Rocks Beach for general recreational purposes for at least one hundred years," Brennan wrote in his decision.
The ruling brings partial closure to an often-bitter court battle that began in 2009 when beachfront property owners sued the town, claiming ownership of the beach to the low water mark. They asserted that the public has no right to cross the beach for general recreation.
The dispute went to trial on Aug. 20, and closing arguments were heard Sept. 25.
The town was joined in the lawsuit by the state and several Goose Rocks Beach property owners who were not part of the lawsuit against the town.
Town officials received Brennan's decision in the mail Wednesday.
"It's a victory for the town and a victory for the people of Kennebunkport," Selectman D. Michael Weston said late Wednesday.
Town Manager Larry Mead could not be reached, but he issued a news release.
"This is a great victory for the residents of Kennebunkport and the Goose Rocks community," Mead said in his statement.
"The decision is an affirmation that people for generations shared this unique natural resource as a community and have done so without the need to separate owners from others.
"The beach has been enjoyed by all and, with this decision, will continue to be enjoyed by future generations of residents and visitors," Mead said.
In his ruling, Brennan said trial evidence established that Goose Rocks Beach has been used for public purposes since the 1600s.
In early times, it was used as a road and a source of seaweed and clam harvesting.
"Beginning in the late 1800s and continuing uninterrupted until today, the beach has been a tourist destination used by the general public, most intensely during the summer, but during the rest of the year as well," Brennan wrote.
He said the beach has been used for public purposes "for as long as anyone can remember." And he wrote that, except for occasional disruptive behavior, the beach has remained a "quiet, peaceful place. Only this litigation has undermined that tranquility."
Robert Almeder, a retired professor of philosophy who has owned beachfront property at Goose Rocks Beach since the late 1970s, is one of 29 plaintiffs in the court case against the town. He said Wednesday night that he is certain that Brennan's decision will be appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
"The town is very happy because they got everything they wanted," he said.
But Almeder said the plaintiffs aren't about to give up. Some believe the court case is an attempt by the town to take ownership of the beach in front of their homes.
"This represents a substantial taking of property for recreational purposes and leaves nothing to the property owners," Almeder said.
He reasons that by providing full public access to the beach, the town will encourage visitors to stay an extra night or two at local hotels and spend money in local shops.
"This is clearly an attempt by the town to commercialize the beach," Almeder said. "The town sees this as a big money-maker for the merchants in town."
Town Attorney Amy Tchao said Justice Brennan split the case into two separate issues. He ruled on the public access issue, but has yet to hear arguments on title claims to beachfront property that plaintiffs and the town have made.
Tchao maintains that the town has no interest in claiming title to Goose Rocks Beach. She said she is hopeful that the plaintiffs will drop that part of the lawsuit and abide by Brennan's ruling on public access.
"The judge clearly saw it the way the town saw it (on public access)," she said. "It's a resounding victory for the town."
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: