SIGNS OF COMMUNITY SUPPORT for Cedar Beach are cropping up along Route 24 in Harpswell. Beach season may be drawing to a close, but efforts to re-establish public access to the beach show no signs of flagging on Bailey Island.

SIGNS OF COMMUNITY SUPPORT for Cedar Beach are cropping up along Route 24 in Harpswell. Beach season may be drawing to a close, but efforts to re-establish public access to the beach show no signs of flagging on Bailey Island.

HARPSWELL

Beside the decorative buoys and lobster traps characteristic of Harpswell, signs of community support are cropping up along Route 24.

“We Love Cedar Beach!” “Let’s Not Lose Another Beach!”

THE BLOCKED PATH leading to Cedar Beach.

THE BLOCKED PATH leading to Cedar Beach.

Beach season may be drawing to a close, but efforts to reestablish public access to Cedar Beach show no signs of flagging on Bailey Island.

Cedar Beach has traditionally been accessed via private road owned by Charles and Sally Abrahamson, and a footpath owned by Jonathan and Rachel Aspatore. Both the road and the footpath are now closed to the public.

“The Cedar Beach issue is near and dear to everyone on the island,” says Teri Pontbriand, owner of Bailey Island General Store. “It’s the big person with a lot of money versus the little person trying to protect the rights they’ve had forever.”

TREVOR PONTBRIAND, whose mother owns Bailey Island General Store, has Cedar Beach T-shirts for sale at the shop, where patrons get a crash course on the beach access issue.

TREVOR PONTBRIAND, whose mother owns Bailey Island General Store, has Cedar Beach T-shirts for sale at the shop, where patrons get a crash course on the beach access issue.

Pontbriand says, “Everyone is keenly interested. We’re explaining the beach issue every time someone walks in the door.”

Support for public access to Cedar Beach has been building over the past three years, and has generated the organization of a nonprofit group, incited two lawsuits and required the town’s ongoing involvement.

In 2010, Charles and Sally Abrahamson approached the town with an offer to sell the road. After an appraisal and a vote by the town, Harpswell was ready to purchase the road for $220,000. But the offer fell dramatically short of the seller’s $950,000 asking price.

The Abrahamsons own the private part of Cedar Beach Road that leads to the beach.

Under a tentative agreement, the Abrahamsons would get reimbursement for opening their private road to beachgoers.

But the agreement is contingent on another agreement being reached with neighbors Jonathan and Rachel Aspatore, who own the parcel of land that leads to Robinhood Beach.

Harpswell Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Elinor Multer and Town Administrator Kristi Eiane recently examined an array of tax maps lining a table.

“What folks are talking about acquiring is an easement from here,” Eiane says, pointing to the junction of Robinhood and Cedar Beach roads, “to get them down to this area,” she says, and taps her pen at the mouth of a footpath 0.2 miles away.

“It was going to be permanent, documented access,” Eiane says. “It was just going to be a straight sale — willing seller, willing buyer — but we never got to that union.”

“The buyer wasn’t willing to accept the seller’s price,” Multer said.

With the beach going largely unused in 2012, a nonprofit group called Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters formed to establish terms under which historic use of the beach could be continued, Mike Helfgott, the group’s president, said.

They started a newsletter, raised funds and initiated a Facebook page that has nearly 800 “likes.”

Helfgott says, “It has galvanized people from all over Harpswell, even though some of them have never used, and don’t plan on using, Cedar Beach. They understand the challenge it makes to the kind of community we are.”

“It needs to be a win-win for everyone,” says Martin Eisenstein of Brann & Isaacson, attorney for the petitoners. “We’ve negotiated with other property owners on Cedar Beach Road that no dogs be allowed on the easement area, that there be no trash, no fires, and no fireworks.”

“We would be happy to agree to those kinds of conditions,” says Eisenstein. “And I think the Abrahamsons would agree to those terms and conditions.”

The town can’t release funds for the road unless use of the footpath is secured. “We’re aren’t going to pay for a road to nowhere,” says Eiane.

“There hasn’t been much of anything happening with the Aspatores,” Multer said. “It’s been exclusively phone calls, with their lawyer, primarily.”

“I had a brief phone conversation with Rachel Aspatore,” Multer said. “She was very upset. She’d seen some signs around. She just wanted to get her kids and herself and her husband away,” adding that they were only in Maine for a few days.

Multiple requests for comment from the Abrahamsons’ and Aspatores’ attorneys were unreturned.

One of the main concerns prior to closure was that emergency vehicles could be impeded by beachgoers parked on Robinhood Road.

“There were some valid complaints about parking on the town road,” says Multer. “Sometimes people were sloppy about it.”

Not all Harpswell inhabitants who used the beach required parking. Cundy’s Harbor resident Joan MacLeese says, “When I was in my teens, we used the beach all the time. That was in the 1940s. We didn’t need parking because most people who used the beach lived within walking distance.”

“I had friends that would park on my lawn and walk down to the beach,” says Pam Johnson, a longtime Harpswell resident.

“I was an EMT for 10 years,” Johnson said. “If we’d had a call down there, there wouldn’t have been a problem (reaching an emergency).”

“I’ll be 80 years old next month,” she says, “and I’ve been going to Cedar Beach since I was 3.”

For her, it’s “purely sentimental.”

“Many of my friends who used the beach have passed away now,” she said. “I don’t want to lose the memories of that place, too.”

With another summer lost to beachgoers, Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters is pressing its legal case. But Helfgott is sensitive to the finer points of the loss of Cedar Beach.

“We’re motivated by inhabitants who regale us with wonderful tales of how they themselves used the beach many, many years ago.”

He said, “They’re really crestfallen over this. We’re motivated by the loss that these people are feeling.”

ROSANNA GARGIULO is a Times Record correspondent who lives in Brunswick.


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