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York selectman urges town to buy beaches

YORK (WGME) -- Maine's public beaches are quickly getting scooped up by private landowners. Moody beach in Wells is closed to people like you and me. And after a recent Maine Supreme Court ruling, at least half of goose rocks beach may soon be closed to the public as well. Some town leaders in York don't want that to happen to them. Their solution is simple. The Town of York should buy all of its beaches.
The Town of York has always considered it's four beaches to be public beaches. But a recent ruling by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court seems to have turned York's public beaches into private ones. Ron Nowell, the York Board of Selectman Chairman, says "The court said that the people are on the beach with permission of the property owners. And if you withdraw the permission, it means they're not on the beach."

Nowell says closing beaches in York off to the public is now a very real possibility. Because of the ruling, Long Sands Beach, the town's largest, is no longer considered a public beach. It's owned by the ocean front property owners across the street, who could decide to privatize it anytime they want. Nowell says two wealthy landowners did just that, when they closed public access to part of York's 300 year old Cliff Walk.

Nowell says "It just takes one person. And that's what happens. Somebody with a lot of money and boom, up go the fences. The same thing could happen on the beaches, very, very easily." If Long Sands Beach ever becomes a private, Nowell says "It would devastate the economy in York." The town does own most of Short Sands Beach and half of York Harbor Beach. Cape Neddick and Long Sands are now mostly private.

Ron Nowell wants the town to buy the remaining beaches to make sure they stay open to the public. Longtime York vacationer Scott Rigney says "I would imagine it's going to be astronomical to do something like that." He went onto say "I'd be crushed actually to think we couldn't come down and use the beach." And vacationer Sharri Kapiloff says "I've enjoyed coming here for years and would hate to be restricted in any way."

Nowell plans to put the idea of buying the beaches on the agenda for the Monday, February 24th Selectman's meeting. The big question; where will the town come up with the money to buy them? Glen Kapiloff says "I don't know how the town would be able to afford it. It would be a struggle either way because if you lose it, you're losing all the revenue of (summer vacationers). And if you purchase it, it's going to cost you a lot."

Nowell believes it might cost the town less than you think, since, in his words, "you can't do anything with it". In other words, in Maine it is against the law to build or develop anything on a beach. This isn't an issue everywhere in Maine. There are communities that have secured public beaches in our state. One example of that is in Ogunquit, where Josiah Chase, back in 1925, deeded Marginal Way and the beach to the town.