Goose Rocks Beach not a public beach
KENNEBUNKPORT (WGME) -- The Maine Supreme Judicial Court hands down a ruling vacating the public right to use one of Kennebunkport's beaches. It also puts an end to a 5 year dispute that started when 29 beach front owners sued to protect their land rights on Goose Rocks Beach. A trial court said the public did have a right to that beach. But the high court overturned its decision.
Despite numerous testimony that Goose Rocks Beach had been used by back lot owners and the public for years, the High Court said that such generalized testimony is not enough to establish the public's right to enjoy the beach. By that standard, it is virtually impossible to prove that each and every one of the ocean front property owners willingly gave their permission for decades.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled the individual beach front property owners have the rights to the beach all the way down to the water's edge. Pete Thaxter, attorney for the 29 property owners who filed suit, says "Their property line has always been to the low water mark. And that's been the law since 1647 in Maine and in Massachusetts."
Thaxter and Ben Leoni argued just because the public has used that beach for years, doesn't mean property owners lose the rights. But town attorney Amy Tchao, who fought the lawsuit, says this ruling now means beach front owners no longer have to grant access to the beach. Tchao says "This ruling now leaves public uses of beaches to the whim of individual private property owners."
Tchao went onto say "Any member of the public who even wants to walk in the inter tidal zone can be shooed off by any private property owner. And they have no recourse." Thaxter argues "You don't want them claiming because they cross your property or you let them use it that they have a legal right and can enforce it against you." The law presumes they're using it with your permission."
Norman and Judy Merrill live across from several ocean front neighbors. But they're not worried about this ruling. Norman Merrill says "We have friends along the front. We'll always be able to go on the beach." Besides, he says, he believes in the rights of landowners, even if their includes a beach. Norman Merrill says "When somebody has a deed, that should remain their property."
There is one bright spot. Other beach front owners on Goose Rocks Beach have given the town permission for the public to continue to use more than half the beach. But we'll have to wait until the snow melts to see what the remaining beach front owners do. Will they run people off this summer? Or will they continue to allow people to use this beach, like they have for decades?