A Coopers Beach Road resident's offer to pay for plowing of a particular section of that public easement road may be a solution to an ongoing conflict in Owls Head.

Resident Lewis Edwards and his attorney, Chris MacLean, were in attendance May 6,  along with more than 20 other residents, for the Board of Selectmen's meeting to discuss 10 public easement roads and how best to deal with the snowplowing going forward.

At its April 16 meeting, the board was advised by town attorney Fred Newcomb to open a dialogue with residents of the public easement roads to see if they were interested in having the town take back the roads, and particularly Coopers Beach Road.

"I think it is high time that Coopers Beach Road be taken by eminent domain," 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."

Newcomb 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.

Newcomb said he had never liked the public easement situation the town is in, noting that the roads are not precisely described, and added that it would be better to have a surveyed plot plan, recorded with the Registry of Deeds.

"That way everybody knows exactly where they stand … down to the inch," he said, adding that if the town feels a particular road is important enough to plow, it should take it back as a town road.

"The public easement can be terminated," Newcomb offered as well, noting that it could be done on a case-by-case, road-by-road basis.

Plowing of public easement roads is voluntary in Owls Head, which means the town is not obligated 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.

Should the town take back any public easement roads, it would have the expense and obligation to maintain them to town ordinance standards. Road Commissioner Bill Leppanen said it would be a financial disadvantage to the town to take all the public easement roads back, as many of those roads do not meet ordinance standards.

"I recognize that the Coopers Beach situation has inspired the conversation," MacLean said, adding that his client did not want to be involved in any further litigation and had offered to pay for plowing at the end of Coopers Beach Road.

He said for the last two winters, Edwards has done the plowing on the lower section of the road, and should the town take it over, there would be much more involved than maintaining it to ordinance standards.

"There is a sea wall down there that would have to be maintained," MacLean said, noting that his client had spent $20,000 of his own money to maintain that. "If that's not maintained, your new town road is going to blow out," he said.

MacLean added that it would be quite an undertaking, with the need for some trees to be taken down and utility poles moved and replaced in order to meet town road ordinances.

"It would not be just the upfront expense, but the reoccurring each year," he said. "It's that or take my client up on his offer to just pay for the snow removal," MacLean said.

Edwards said he has the necessary equipment at his disposal for the snow removal, but he also has to deal with storm debris that washes up over the sea wall.

He said, if the town keeps Coopers Beach Road as a public easement, he would have no problem with whoever the town contracted with plowing down to his property and turning around in the side driveway, and letting him take care of the front and the turn-around.

Residents of some of the other public easement roads seemed to be not very supportive of the idea of the town's taking over their private roads, and insinuated the only reason the topic was being discussed was because of the issues with Coopers Beach Road.

Newcomb reminded them that one change of ownership on a lot on any of the given roads could result in a similar situation.

"There are so many different ways to resolve this issue," MacLean said, noting that he was pleased with the turnout and the "nice, civil opportunity" to address the situation. He said he and Edwards would work with the town to come up with something that works for everyone.

Any decision to take back a road as town-owned or rescind public easements would have to be discussed further and the taking back of any road would eventually be voted on by the citizens of Owls Head.

Select Board Chairman Tom Von Malder requested Leppanen to conduct a review of the current condition of the roads in question.

Meanwhile, the board will be advertising a request for proposals for the next plowing season (June 2019-May 2020) of nearly 25 miles of town roads. They will be opened at the June 3 meeting.

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