The Bridgton Water District built a locked gate that crosses the Sanborn’s easement, seen above, blocking their access to their property, said co-owners Nancy and Philip Sanborn. Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

BRIDGTON — The Sanborn family says it will not accept the recent Planning Board ruling that restricts them from extracting gravel from the banks on their property.

After 11 months of debate, the Planning Board decided Aug. 18 that the Sanborn land was ineligible to be grandfathered into the Willett Brook Aquifer Protection Ordinance, thus preventing any gravel extraction on the Sanborns’ property.

The Sanborns’ 125 acres, including the gravel banks at the crux of the debate, abuts the acquifer, which is owned and operated by the Bridgton Water District. The water district has said they are concerned that restarting the mineral extraction will negatively impact the environment.

The board’s decision was yet another “systematic, egregious and sustained effort” by the town and the water district to deny the Sanborns’ land rights, wrote Robert Sanborn in a letter to the town and the water district dated Aug. 30.

The board has also erroneously referred to the gravel banks as a gravel “pit,” which implies a different kind of operation and method of mineral extraction, he wrote.

The family, in the letter, gives the town a 30-day deadline to address their demands before they take future action.

Sanborn wrote the letter on behalf of his mother, Katherine “Nancy” Sanborn, and Nancy’s brother-in-law, Philip Sanborn, who co-own the property.

The Sanborns said that the level of extraction they expect, about 12,000 cubic yards a year for a mix of personal use and sales, would not negatively impact the aquifer.

Sanborn said the sales would primarily be to their neighbor, with whom they negotiated a temporary access route in 2017.

“The town of Bridgton landowners should be aware of what they’re doing to us. I mean, (we’ve) owned this land for centuries. And now, all of a sudden, we can’t (use it),” Nancy Sanborn said in an interview on Tuesday.

According to the family, gravel has been extracted from the property dating back to the 1800s for the construction of the Narrow-Gauge Railroad, and that they harvest the timber-rich land every 10 to 12 years.

The government granted the land to Robert Andrews, a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War, in 1780. The Sanborns are descended from Andrews’ sister, Ruth Andrews Barnard.

Since the property does not have direct access to the main roads, the Sanborns have a public easement of “the Sandy Creek to South Bridgton town way,” which gives them right of access.

Public records show the current deed is dated July 1971, but the first recorded instance of the easement dates back to 1920.

But Nancy and Philip Sanborn said in an interview that in the 28 years since the Bridgton Water District, which provides the town’s water supply, bought the adjoining property that includes their easement, it has made every effort to deny the Sanborns access to their own land.

The water district built a fence around its property in 1992 and installed a locked gate in 2013, only allowing the Sanborns access to their land during the water district’s business hours, according to Nancy Sanborn.

But the Sanborns say their easement deeds them access to that land to travel to and from their landlocked property.

The Sanborn family said that the town approved construction of a home over their easement in the late 2000s, blocking yet another point of entry. The road where they used to be able to enter, seen above, now leads to private property. Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

The town also approved construction of a home in 2007 that sits on top of the easement.

The Sanborns had to forfeit a gravel sale in 2013 because of the water district’s “unlawful actions,” resulting in lost income, said Robert Sanborn, because they couldn’t get to their own property.

“They want our land. They need the land to build more wells,” Nancy Sanborn said.

Phillip Sanborn said that district last approached the family about buying the land in 2013, but that their offer was “insulting.”

“The growth in the town of Bridgton is tremendous and they need more wells. There’s no question about it. The land they’ve got, there’s no water under it. It’s under our property,” he said.

The water district’s attorney, Andrew Pierce of Hastings Malia law firm in Fryeburg could not be reached for comment earlier this week.

Linda LaCroix, the town’s Community Development Director, and the town attorney, Aga Dixon of the Portland law firm Drummond Woodsum, said that they could not comment on ongoing matters.

After the family negotiated the access route with their neighbor, they began looking into restarting their gravel extraction, which led to their October 2019 application to the Planning Board.

In their letter to the town, the family requested an investigation into the town, water district and town attorney for their “systematic efforts” to deny (the) Sanborns’ access to land and remove land rights unlawfully” and for compensation of legal fees and lost income related to the 2013 incident.

Phillip Sanborn declined to say how much the family has spent in legal fees, but said that it has been at considerable expense to him and Nancy Sanborn.

The family told the town that if the matter is not resolved within 30 days of the Aug. 30 letter, “we expect to utilize all available remedies and redress.”

Nancy and Philip Sanborn said they aren’t sure what their next steps will be until they hear back from the town, which they said they hadn’t as of Tuesday morning.

Dixon said that the Planning Board is scheduled to officially close the matter at their Sept. 15 meeting and after that the Sanborns have a right to appeal the decision.

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