A Cumberland County Superior Court judge last week sided with the Portland Water District determining that the town of Standish has no right to land adjacent to the Standish Boat Launch. As a result, the town plans to appeal.

And while the judge ruled against Standish’s ownership of the parking lots and wooded areas near the boat launch, the ruling reaffirmed Standish’s access to the lake via the town-owned Northeast Road Ext.

“While pleased that our contention that the District has no rights to Northeast Road had been affirmed earlier as a result of the District’s suit,” Town Manager Gordon Billington said, “we still seek the opportunity to affirm the rights of the public to the lands they have used continuously for more than a century. As such, we will appeal the ruling to the Maine Supreme Court.”

Adverse possession and prescriptive easement are two terms that are often referred to as “squatter’s rights.” With adverse possession, if the property in question has been continuously used in excess of 20 years, the users can claim title to that property. With prescriptive easement, the requirements are similar but instead of title, the users can obtain an easement for a particular use.

Because the court has defined the District as a “quasi-municipal district,” under an old law designed to protect the rights of kings, the court ruled the District is protected from Standish’s claim to the land.

“It’s an ancient rule that we’re saying makes no sense,” said Standish’s attorney Ken Cole. “This has been used as a parking lot for 100 years. You can’t change that.”

According to Cole, there are a couple of problems with the ruling. He questions why the District should be considered a municipality and he finds fault with what many consider an antiquated law.

“That rule applies to state and municipalities,” he said. “It’s a feudal rule that goes back a thousand years. It’s been gradually eroded over the last 25 years. Sovereign immunity was thrown out by the state.

Standish’s appeal will request that the law be eroded in Maine as it has been in many other states.

Without the use of the land surrounding Northeast Road, parking for those using the boat launch would be reduced drastically. Billington considers the situation potentially harmful to recreational activity at the site. With some already parking on Route 35 for special events both in summer and winter, any plan on the District’s part to restrict land use could create a dangerous situation.

Portland Water District Spokesperson Michelle Clements says the District is pleased by the ruling.

“There’s the possibility that the trustees might energize their plans to return the boat launch area to its natural state,” Clements said.

But they may have to wait awhile. Cole expects the appeal on the point of clarification could take a year, at which time the case will return to Superior Court before a final ruling is made. In the meantime, Billington said he indicated to the District’s general manager that the town remains “willing to seek an amicable solution with the District over the lands.”

An aerial view of the Standish boat launch and of the Northeast Road access, which runs from Route 35 to Sebago Lake. Last week, Superior Court declared that Standish does not have prescriptive rights to use the land adjacent to Northeast Road. Courtesy photo

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