The Portland Water District is anxious to have Cumberland County Superior Court consider a lawsuit brought by the district against Standish last June.

Standish recently asked the court for more time to prepare their response to the suit. The District has countered that the town has had enough time to prepare and the district would like to see a decision in the case. The town has not yet learned whether the request for more time will be granted.

Judge Thomas E. Delahanty has been assigned the case and has begun examining all the legal facts surrounding the issues in the lawsuit.

At the heart of the suit is whether the Water District or town own rights to the land under Northeast Road Extension. The road leads to the Standish boat launch, and the town claims in legal filings that the public has unrestricted rights to use abutting district land for parking vehicles and boat trailers.

The District, however, claims full ownership of the land and could potentially consider changes to the adjacent lands, such as removal of the parking areas, should the court favor its claims.

The Legislature recognized the District’s need to ensure the quality of the water supply in Sebago Lake by enacting two protective zones around the intake pipes at the southern end of the lake. The first zone protects the intake by allowing no use of that part of the lake whatsoever. The second area is a “no bodily contact” zone measuring two miles around the intake pipes. Boating is permitted, but swimming and water skiing are prohibited in the two-mile zone.

The boat launch is roughly 4,000 feet from the intake pipes, and that proximity still places the area well inside the two-mile buffer zone. The two-mile zone prohibits any bodily contact with the lake water and therefore restricts many recreational uses.

According to District the suit does not seek to remove the boat launch or to prevent the public from driving on Northeast Road Extension. To provide the public with sufficient room to maneuver trailers safely in and out of the launching area, the district, in 1982, granted the town a revocable license to two fifty-foot strips of land along the shore on either side of the right-of-way. The license is revocable upon 30-days notice.

The town contends that through use of the launch areas for more than 50 years, Standish has acquired “prescriptive rights” to the area. This argument refers to “adverse possession,” and contends that the town has acquired the rights to continue to use the boat launch and parking areas, because they have demonstrated an unbroken history of public use of the areas for more than 20 years. Standish has maintained the road and launch for all that time, and feels that restricting uses there would harm the publics’ right to utilize the launch.

Whether the adverse possession laws apply to a quasi-municipal entity, such as the Water District, is the other major issue before the judge. The Water District is not viewed as just a local corporation, but as a public utility that deserves some extra considerations to protect the water supplied to roughly 200,000 people. The district claims they cannot be sued for, or have lands taken by, adverse possession, because they are an extension of the state of Maine, just like a town or city.

Gordon Billington, Standish town manager, sees some signs in favor of the town’s case from early statements by Judge Delahanty.

“In the early indications by the judge I see some recognition that the district does not own the fee simple rights to Northeast Road Extension,” Billington said in an interview. “The judge recognized the rights of the heirs of the proprietors of Pearsontown (original name of Standish) to join the suit. I am not an attorney, but I hope the judge is tending to agree with the town that we have rights associated with the road.”

Michelle Clements, Water District spokeswoman, said it’s too early in the case to read much into the judge’s comments.

“It is still too early to suggest what route the judge is taking,” Clements said. “There are some preliminary, procedural issues that are part of the whole process, but the core issues still need to be decided. We are anxious to see this matter handled in a timely manner.”


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