Owls Head voters agree to fight lawsuit

By Stephen Betts | Dec 20, 2011
Photo by: Stephen Betts Nearly 100 residents turned out Monday night, Dec. 19 for a special town meeting in Owls Head.

Owls Head — Nearly 100 residents overwhelmingly agreed at a special town meeting Dec. 19 to spend up to $50,000 on legal fees to defend a lawsuit brought to overturn the town's easement on a road that leads to the waterfront.

"We need to send a message," resident Nina Paul said about people who buy property in the town and then try to cut off access to neighbors and other residents.

Other residents agreed.

"It's a shame we no longer live in an age where there is good old-fashion neighborliness," said resident Elizabeth Hunt.

Attorney William Dale of South Portland, who represents the town in a lawsuit brought by Darlene F. Edwards and Lewis M. Edwards III of Saugerties, N.Y., said that selectmen recommended setting aside $50,000 for legal costs because they wanted to take a stand in an effort to avoid a proliferation of lawsuits similar to the one filed by the Edwardses.

The Edwardses filed the lawsuit Nov. 9 against the town as well as their neighbors Cynthia S. Blackman, Nathalie M. Scott, Willis A. Scott Jr., Eliot A. Scott, and Constance M. Scott. The Edwardses own property near the end of Coopers Beach Road. Coopers Beach Road runs from North Shore Drive to the shore of Rockland Harbor.

Dale noted residents accepted the public easement on the road at a town meeting in 1986. This means that the town plows the road to the end and, in return, the public is allowed to drive and walk on the road.

The Edwardses argue, however, in their lawsuit that the town's acceptance of the petition in 1986 failed to identify what was being accepted and that a later description did not include what is now their property. The couple asks that the town be ordered to declare it has no public easement over their driveway or any portion of their property.

A second lawsuit was filed Dec. 12 in Knox County Superior Court on behalf of Beverly A. and David B. Gravison of Sutton, Mass. The Gravisons named 13 neighbors as defendants in the lawsuit.

The Massachusetts couple has asked the court to rule that the 13 neighbors have no right to use or go onto any portion of the Gravison property including the beach off Osprey Lane. Osprey Lane is located off Coopers Beach Road.

The Gravisons maintain that the defendants — Calvert M. Fisher and Wendy B. Fisher of West End, N.C.; David A. Massimi and Theresa M. Massimi of Bloomington, N.Y.; Kenneth C. Roy and Barbara J. Waltrous of Amherst, N.H.; Nancy Ellen Wolff Bolan of Jacksonville, Fla.; Douglas E. Johnson who is the trustee of the Osprey Realty Trust of Andover, Mass.; Anne Long of Center Barnstead, N.H.; Jean Perkins of Owls Head; Mary-Lou M. Moulton of Bowdoin; and Nina Paul of Rockland — wrongfully claim a right to use and walk upon the Gravisons' property and shorefront.

The Gravison lawsuit does not name the town as a defendant.

Dale said he expected that the cost to the town will be less than $50,000 since the attorneys hired by the residents in the Edwards lawsuit and the insurance company representing the residents in the Gravison lawsuit will share the work.

The money was not included in the 2011-2012 budget approved by residents at town meeting but will come from surplus which Selectman Richard Carver said was $680,000.

Rodney Mason also voiced support for spending the money.

"Fight them tooth and nail," Mason said.

David Gravison spoke and pointed out that the description of the road accepted for an easement by the town in 1986 did not include detailed metes and bounds.

Attorney Dale noted that at the 1986 town meeting, a selectman held up a tax map with a drawing that specifically showed what the easement covered.

Dale said while he can't guarantee a win, he was confident the town would win the case.

No fireworks

Residents also overwhelmingly (12 people voting no) approved an ordinance that will prohibit the sale and use of fireworks.

Charles Johnson said he is a veteran and he has heard enough bangs in his life.

"I came to Owls Head for peace and quiet," Johnson said in support of the fireworks ban.

Bruce Colson, the town's assistant fire chief, said the ordinance would be unenforceable. He said the Knox County Sheriff's Office will not respond to fireworks complaints and the fire department does not have the authority to charge someone with a violation.

Ed Strollo disagreed, saying the sheriff's department does respond to fireworks complaints.

Jason Philbrook urged residents to reject the fireworks ban.

"Fireworks are a universal display of freedom," Philbrook said, noting that Egyptian citizens fired off fireworks during their revolution.

He suggested instead that the town limit the use of fireworks with restrictions on how late they could be used and include safety precautions.

William Leppanen, who serves on the town's planning board, noted the planning board had recommended to selectmen that fireworks be allowed during the week of the Fourth of July and also the week of New Year's. He criticized the proposed ban.

"This is another ordinance that will not be enforced or will be selectively enforced," Leppanen said.

The state approved a law earlier this year to allow the sale and use of fireworks in Maine but allows municipalities to enact bans. The law takes effect Jan. 1. Rockland and Camden have adopted local bans that will be in place before Jan. 1.

Also at the Dec. 19 special town meeting, residents voted 64-27 to approve a right-of-way as a town way for Broad Cove Lane, which runs off the Lighthouse Road.

The town's road commissioner and fire chief said the road met standards for acceptance as a town road.

David Gravison questioned why the town would accept the road since it will be the town's liability.

Bruce Colson noted that the town had rejected accepting Freedom Road, which is paved.

"I just don't see why we would accept a dirt road," Colson said.

Carver noted that a petition from residents of the road was submitted to the town. There are eight residences on that road and on driveways leading from Broad Cove Lane.

Attorney Dale was elected as moderator of the town meeting held at the community building. John Hufnagel was elected as deputy moderator and presided over the meeting during the discussion on spending the money for the lawsuit. This was done because Dale is also the attorney who is being paid by the town to defend its position.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Phil Edwards | Dec 21, 2011 13:19

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I thought that all deeds indicated right-of-ways across a property, or right-of-ways beside a property or between two properties. Maybe I'm misreading something in the article but are the plaintiffs claiming that their property, as outlined in a deed, includes a portion of the roadway? Are they saying that their deed grants them property rights to the edge of their property, or to the high tide mark, or from a roadway?Has the normal action  of tides and storms eroded their frontage and, at least in their minds, pushed the back of their property a few more feet inland?


Frankly, I'm not sure what I'm even trying to say, but as home buyers, they, and perhaps their lawyer, should have known excactly what they were getting before signing.Caveat emptor.

Posted by: Valerie Wass | Dec 20, 2011 17:54

It's really a shame that out of stater's buy up property here along the coast and think that they own the "right of way".  Access to our local shores is what makes this county so unique.  I am sick at the lawsuits brought on by out of staters regarding property in Owls Head.  My grandfather, David O. Knowlton, is, I assume, a very angry angel right now.  It breaks my heart to see that the town of Owls Head has to needless spend tax payers money to protect what rightfully is theirs and has been for generations.  Ash Point, Cooper Beach, Shearman's Lane with the light house, it just makes me sick to think that these da.. out of staters can think that just because they buy property here along the beautiful coast of Maine, they can try to cut off access to what rightfully is God's land and should be shared by all!

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