The ruling grants Kennebunkport title rights to beach areas down to the low-water mark in front of all but one of the 23 beachfront properties at Goose Rocks Beach. Staff photo by John Patriquin

A York County Superior Court judge has found in favor of Kennebunkport in a years-long legal battle with beachfront property owners over public access to Goose Rocks Beach.

Justice Wayne R. Douglas issued a 274-page ruling Friday in a court case that began in the fall of 2009 when 29 beachfront property owners filed a lawsuit against the town to halt public beach access. The property owners argued they had exclusive use of the beach down to the low-water mark.

The ruling means that virtually all of the two-mile stretch of sandy beach is open to the public, as it has been for generations, said Amy Tchao of Drummond Woodsum, who represents the town.

“The town has never been in it for a land-grab,” she said. “The town has always wanted to preserve the public’s longstanding history of use and enjoyment of the beach.”

Douglas’ ruling grants title rights to the town of beach areas down to the low-water mark in front of all but one of the 23 beachfront properties. The property for which the town does not have title rights is at the easternmost end of the beach adjacent to the Little River.

But the case, which has been in the courts for eight years, might not be over yet. Benjamin Leoni, the Portland-based attorney representing several Goose Rocks Beach property owners, said Monday that it’s likely his clients will appeal Douglas’ decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Leoni said he plans to meet with his clients to discuss their legal options. If they decide to appeal the case before the state’s highest court, the matter likely won’t be heard for at least another year, he said.

“None of the plaintiffs have ever had the intention of closing the beach to public access,” Leoni said. “This case has always been about deeded titles and who owns the beach property. This case has never been about kicking people off the beach. It never has been.”

Leoni said beachfront property owners want to retain the ability to regulate beach activities that would be considered “disruptive behavior” by most people. If a group of people are drinking alcoholic beverages or playing loud music in front of their properties, a property owner should be able to ask those individuals to stop.

Leoni and his co-counsel in the case, Sidney St. F. Thaxter, on Monday issued a statement regarding the Superior Court decision.

“Plaintiffs believe the court set a dangerous precedent for each and every property owner within the State of Maine by ignoring decades and centuries of Plaintiff’s unambiguous deeded ownership to the beach and to cast aside long-established title standards for residential real estate in Maine in favor of a new standard,” Leoni and Thaxter said.

In the statement, the lawyers said that the court decision means every property owner in Maine now will need “to prove perfect, unambiguous deeded property descriptions in deeds tracing back to the King of England in the 1600s before a court will recognize their ownership. This is not the law in Maine and plaintiffs remain optimistic about their chances in any subsequent appeal.”

In 2012, a Superior Court judge rejected the claim by 29 oceanfront property owners that they had exclusive rights to the beach and affirmed the public’s right to swim, walk and recreate on Goose Rocks Beach. Two years later, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued a new opinion overturning the superior court ruling and siding with the property owners.

Later in 2014, however, the Supreme Judicial Court replaced its ruling with a new opinion allowing Kennebunkport to argue its case again in Superior Court on a parcel-by-parcel basis, rather than argue for property access for the entire two-mile stretch of beach. That ruling was specific to Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport and had no broader impact on beach access rights elsewhere in the state.

Contact Gillian Graham at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

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