A sign on Moody Beach tells visitors that the area north of the Wells-Ogunquit line is private. A group challenged a law that gives ownership of the intertidal zone to property owners instead of the state, but a judge has ruled mostly against them. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A group of Mainers has filed an appeal to Maine’s highest court aimed at overturning an earlier ruling allowing property owners to deny the public access to Moody Beach in what has been a contentious battle over whether property owners can claim ownership of beaches down to the low-tide mark.

The appeal pushes forward a decades-long effort to reclaim the right to recreate and walk on the Wells beach – and Maine’s coastline at large.

“We cannot stand by while our precious shoreline is locked away, only to be enjoyed by the privileged few. We cannot watch as shorefront owners call the police on children playing paddle ball in the sand,” said Keith Richard, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “Every Mainer’s right to walk, swim, work, and play on our coastline is at stake. This is an opportunity to bring Maine in line with almost every other coastal state and restore the shoreline to the Maine people.”

“From splashing in the shallows – to stretching out to watch the sun rise, Maine’s beaches have become off limits and confrontations at the waterline are leaving towns in the middle as the police and public officials try to interpret a confusing and contradicting set of laws,” Archipelago, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, wrote in a statement.

Plaintiffs have officially filed the appeal with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The appeal challenges a February ruling that dismissed their motion asserting their right to walk on intertidal lands.

The plaintiffs are a coalition of nearby property owners, local businesses, fishermen and seaweed harvesters, and a marine biologist. The defendants own property on Moody Beach, including Judy’s Moody – which has rented units on AirBnB advertised with private beaches.


The filing references signs that say “Private Beach, No Loitering.” The plaintiffs also say some of the defendants are blocking people from using their land.

And they technically have the right to do so.

In February, Maine Superior Court Justice John O’Neil Jr. upheld decisions by the Maine supreme court in 1986 and 1989 that ruled property owners own land down to the low-tide line on Moody Beach, though the public could still access that intertidal land for “fishing, fowling and navigation.” That ruling is based on language from a 1640s ordinance.

The plaintiffs are asking the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to overturn the 1989 court case and, in turn, return beach access to the public.

“Some shorefront owners are using this archaic law to bar the public from using the water, rocks, and beaches the shorefront owners claim to own,” Archipelago wrote in its statement.

Plaintiffs assert they have the right in part because Maine common law has implied that fishing, fowling and navigation are intended to represent “reasonable ocean-based uses,” according to the filing. They also argue that the plaintiffs, and public at large are making a “reasonable” demand.

“Plaintiffs are engaged in reasonable ocean-related recreational uses that do not interfere with the upland owners’ peaceful enjoyment of their property,” the lawsuit states.

If the court rules in the defendants’ favor, the issue could work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, Archipelago attorney Benjamin Ford said in February.

It could ultimately set a precedent on how much access property owners must provide to the public on privately-owned beaches along Maine’s coastline.

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