Board responds to lawsuit threat regarding service to Coopers Beach Road

By Beth A. Birmingham | Jan 08, 2019
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Selectboard Chairman Tom Von Malder makes a statement at the beginning of the meeting Jan. 7.

Owls Head — The Owls Head Board of Selectmen is dealing with the threat of legal action by residents who, it feels, have been causing problems since losing a lawsuit appeal in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in January 2016.

Board Chairman Tom Von Malder responded to a letter received from Camden Law attorney Christopher MacLean, representing Lewis and Darlene Edwards of 70 Coopers Beach Road, which stated, in part, "we will bring a lawsuit against the Town of Owls Head ... and against any other individuals whom the law allows to hold personally responsible ... in the event of a property loss -- or God forbid injury or death."

"Property or a building or life is more important than some posts," Von Malder said in his response at the beginning of the Jan. 7 selectmen's meeting.

He was referring to several wooden barriers the Edwardses have placed at the edge of their property that appear to limit the space for vehicles to turn around at the end of the road without having damage caused to them.

Von Malder said the posts have been the subject of legal threats from the Edwardses against the town's plowing agent, a worker hired by a neighbor, and against the fire department.

"This board and the town, as you've learned in the past, will not be intimidated or bullied by your legal threats," Von Malder said.

MacLean's correspondence was in response to several letters and verbal communications made by Fire Chief Frank Ross.

Some of those communications include inflammatory and threatening statements, and indicate no emergency services will be provided to the residents of Coopers Beach Road, according to MacLean.

"People can put anything they want on their own property," the attorney said, adding that he has had no legal explanation from the town or its attorney as to what makes the posts in question illegal.

MacLean said there has been no response from attorney William Dale regarding a letter he sent to the Edwardses' attorney at Bernstein Shur asking them to "stop interfering with and/or attempting to intimidate town officials and their agents regarding winter maintenance on Coopers Beach Road."

MacLean further stated that he feels there is a personal dispute on the fire chief's part, which is illegal and unlawful, and will pursue legal action if the law is not followed.

MacLean said he has inspected and measured the posts in question, and said there is no difficulty maneuvering any vehicle around that area. "There's plenty of room," he said.

"I am not going to have the threat of a lawsuit held over the heads of our firefighters ... these are only volunteers who want to help their neighbors," Ross states in one of his letters.

He said the Edwardses have a court order against them to stop these types of actions and were ordered to remove the posts, and requested the selectmen ask Dale to seek action and assist in getting the road back to a point where someone will plow and sand it for fire protection purposes.

His final thought to selectmen was "We call the Edwardses' hand by taking a fire engine down the road and cleaning out the illegal posts to see what they do then."

Selectman Gordon Page affirmed the selectmen did not instruct the fire chief to send any such correspondence to anyone and have not instructed the fire department not to respond to any emergency that may arise on Coopers Beach Road.

The road has been plowed by the town's agent since 1974.

The controversy dates back to March 2016, when 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 -- known as Coopers Beach.

The Gravisons and Edwardses appealed the matter to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which rejected their claims.

The Edwardses took their claim to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in October 2016, refused to hear the case.

"The town spent more than $100,000 in taxpayer money to prove our legal rights to the road," Selectman Linda Post reminded the audience, addin that, she was unaware of how much the neighbors spent representing their interests in the matter.

Back in 2017, the town sought legal advice on its responsibility to provide plowing services to residents of Coopers Beach Road. Plowing of public easement roads is voluntary in Owls Head; however, not doing so would interfere with response by emergency agencies should the need arise.

In April 2017, the Edwardses threatened to take JBI Inc., which is contracted for plowing by the town, to court for property damage to the posts. Jake Barbour, owner of JBI, paid for the damage to avoid court action.

At that time, it was agreed that Donnie Blackman, who resides in the area and has a smaller truck, would plow Osprey Lane, which leads to the road in question, and Barbour would plow to Blackman's driveway at the beginning of Osprey Lane.

"We are a small community of friendly people," Von Malder said. "We are about being neighborly and using common sense."

Von Malder said the town intends to service the road as it always has.

Lewis Edwards and MacLean were both present at the meeting.

Town landing on Coopers Beach Road

The board addressed another letter of concern from Camden Law requesting the Comprehensive Plan be changed to reflect that there is no town landing on Coopers Beach Road.

A map indicating a town landing on the road is published in the town's Compehensive Plan (page 152), which was published in January 2014.

A listing of town landings, printed on Page 124 of the Comprehensive Plan, does not list a town landing as such.

"The map should reflect reality," MacLean said.

The board will seek removal of the marker.

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

Board responds to lawsuit threat regarding service to Coopers Beach Road
Lewis Edwards, right, makes his case to Owls Head Selectmen Dave Matthews, left, and Linda Post April 18, 2017, that something should be done about the way snow is plowed on Coopers Beach Road. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
The posts erected by the Edwardses at 70 Coopers Beach Road in Owls Head have been a source of controversy. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
A copy of the map in the Owls Head Comprehensive Plan that indicates there is a town landing on Coopers Beach Road. The marker will be removed. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Comments (3)
Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Jan 09, 2019 10:32

Coopers Beach has always been accessed by neighbors since before my grandparents' time when they owned a cottage there. Out-of-staters think they can bully their neighbors and the town of Owls Head into penury.



Posted by: Sumner Kinney | Jan 08, 2019 15:51

I think I will take a ride down and take a look.

 



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Jan 08, 2019 15:43

Gotta love them transplants.



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