At its April 16 meeting, the Owls Head Board of Selectmen got some advice that may help to resolve the town's ongoing battle over issues on Cooper Beach Road.

"I think it is high time that Coopers Beach Road be taken by eminent domain," resident and attorney Fred Newcomb said. "With what the town has spent on this lawsuit alone, you could've paved Coopers Beach Road and all the other public easement roads and maintained them for the next 10 years."

"I've never liked the public easement situation the town got into," Newcomb noted.

He explained that many years ago the town took on plowing of so-called cottage (private) roads, and when it was disclosed that it was illegal to spend public money on private property, the town took public easements on a number of those roads, including Coopers Beach Road.

"The problem has been that that public easement has not been as well defined as it should have been," he said, adding that the best way to do it is with a precisely surveyed plot plan, recorded with the Registry of Deeds. "That way everybody knows exactly where they stand … down to the inch."

The comment came while the board deliberated renewing its snow removal contract with Jake Barbour Inc. which expires May 1, or putting it out to bid.

"I can understand why the contractor [JBI] doesn't want to plow down there," Newcomb said, referring to a portion of a public easement that runs directly in front of Coopers Beach Road property owned by Lewis and Darlene Edwards, who have threatened and brought forth lawsuits against some contractors and maintenance workers.

At issue is the placement of several barriers the Edwardses put at the edge of the property at 70 Coopers Beach Road that limit the space for snow plowing equipment to turn around without causing damage.

In 2017, JBI paid property damages to the Edwardses to avoid court action following a dispute.

Plowing of public easement roads is voluntary in Owls Head, which means the town does not have the obligation to plow, nor do the residents have to allow plowing to occur. However, it is not just plowing that is involved. Emergency vehicles must also be able to respond, should the need arise.

Newcomb recommended the town consult with the attorney working on the current Coopers Beach Road lawsuit and resolve it once and for all by taking the road.

He said when roads are taken by eminent domain, damages or compensations have to be paid if land is actually taken away.

"But in a situation like this, where rights have already been taken away, I think damages would be absolutely minimal," he said, referring to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court's judgment back in 2016.

In March 2016, the Edwardses, of Saugerties, N.Y., joined Owls Head neighbors David and Beverly Gravison, of Sutton, Mass., in an appeal to the state high court in an effort to prevent other neighbors from having recreational access to the waterfront in front of their homes.

The appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court was rejected, as was an effort by the Edwardses to take their claim to the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2016, which refused to hear the case.

"To put this to rest, once and for all, in accordance with the Maine Supreme Court judgment, I think would be a great relief to most of the people that live on Coopers Beach Road and would resolve this issue of contracting for snow plowing, grading and all the other issues that go along with road maintenance," he said.

When Selectman Linda Post stated she could see another lawsuit happening, Newcomb said the issues would be limited to the level of compensation for property owners.

"You already have a decision by the highest level in the state of Maine that it is a public easement," he said.

Newcomb said there are procedures in place to help deal with figuring out compensation, and places to go to get those issues resolved. He said there is no limit to the amount of property the town could take to make a safe and reasonable roadway.

Newcomb said the more specificity in the plowing contract, the better.

He said the surveying will be a big and costly endeavor in and of itself, and he believes the project as a whole should be looked at annually.

"Most of the people on these roads, I believe, would welcome becoming a town road," he said, noting that then the town assumes the responsibility of maintaining them.

The board voted to advertise for requests for proposals for the town's snow removal contract for upwards of 25 miles.

Chairman Tom Von Malder said the next step will be to invite Road Commissioner Bill Leppanen and representatives from each public easement road to the board's next meeting May 6 to see what interest there is in the town's taking over their roads.

Von Malder said depending on how that goes, compensations would have to be studied and voters would have to approve spending money on surveys and the like.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.