February 9

Maine high court ruling on land access sends out tremors

When the state supreme court affirmed the rights of private property owners at a Kennebunkport beach, advocates for public use all over Maine found reasons to cheer and to worry.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 3)

click image to enlarge

Bob Scribner of Kennebunkport, a beachfront property owner, says, “The public is welcome to use the beach. But they are going to use it with respect.”

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

IMPACT BEYOND BEACHES

The Maine Snowmobile Association and the Maine Forest Products Council – the organization that represents commercial forestland owners who control most of Maine to the north, east and west of Bangor – saw relevance in the Kennebunkport beach case. Both groups filed “friends of the court” briefs in support of the Goose Rocks Beach property owners.

Meyers, the snowmobile association’s executive director, estimated that 95 percent of the state’s 14,500 miles of official snowmobile trails are on private property. The entire snowmobiling industry – worth an estimated $350 million in 2010, with much of that flowing to rural Maine – depends on landowners giving riders permission to pass through their property, Meyers said.

Many landowners regard prescriptive easements as a threat to their property rights. So the written permission forms that the Maine Snowmobile Association provides to local clubs seeking access to private property explicitly state that snowmobilers cannot use that access to justify a prescriptive easement years down the line.

“Our trail system is predicated on permissive use of private land, and that’s what this case was all about,” Meyers said of the Kennebunkport beach battle.

Benjamin Leoni, one of the attorneys representing Scribner and the other Goose Rocks homeowners, said the case “impacts far more than just beaches” and will benefit all of the nature-based tourism that depends on landowner permission.

“This case states that a property owner can continue to allow recreational use as they have in the past without fear of losing an interest or a right in their property,” Leoni said.

But Tchao, Kennebunkport’s attorney, suggested that the ruling could lead to barriers on property that has been used by generations of families. So while Goose Rocks homeowners currently allow the public to use their beaches, there are no guarantees into the future.

“The troubling aspect of this case is that these plaintiffs may eventually sell their properties to someone else” who could block access, Tchao said. “What you have now is public use of beaches in Maine being at the whim of private property owners.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@pressherald.com

Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

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