Maine judge affirms that intertidal zone belongs to private property owners

A sign on Moody Seaside tells site visitors that the region north of the Wells-Ogunquit line is non-public. A team challenged a regulation that offers possession of the intertidal zone to residence homeowners rather of the state, but a judge has dominated largely against them. Ben McCanna/Workers Photographer

A Cumberland County Outstanding Court docket justice has affirmed that the land concerning the significant and minimal tide marks on Maine beach locations belongs to personal house owners, not the condition, but he did not rule on whether the public could use that land for actions like operating.

The ruling dealt a blow to the practically two dozen plaintiffs who submitted a lawsuit to overturn the non-public possession of the intertidal zone. Excellent Court docket Justice John O’Neil Jr. dismissed just about all of the statements and 50 % of the defendants in an purchase this 7 days. But O’Neil also instructed that a long term get could broaden the permitted makes use of on that community land, and the whole situation even now could be certain for the state’s top rated court.

“This lawsuit is the most recent battle in the war more than the intertidal lands off Maine’s coast,” O’Neil wrote.

Most coastal states very own the land between the lower and superior tide marks on their beach locations. Much more than 30 decades back, when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court docket ruled that non-public house owners personal all the way to the minimal-tide line, it also mentioned the community has limited legal rights to use the intertidal zone for “fishing, fowling and navigation.” That language dates again to an ordinance from the 1640s, and its this means has extensive been disputed.

The plaintiffs have asked the courtroom to broaden that definition, and that aspect of the lawsuit is even now alive.

Many of the 23 plaintiffs have a business fascination in the intertidal zone as seaweed harvesters and processors, clammers, wormers and oyster farmers. A person is a maritime biologist an additional is a professor emeritus at the University of Maine School of Legislation and a longtime voice in the legal debate above beach possession. Other people very own home in close proximity to Moody Beach in Wells – the exact seaside that was the focus of the 1980s rulings from the Supreme Judicial Court docket. They filed their grievance in Cumberland County Outstanding Courtroom in April 2021.


Legal professional Ben Ford, who represents the plaintiffs, issued a statement Wednesday that did not address the sweeping dismissal. He also did not remedy adhere to-up queries through email about what attraction choices are readily available to his clientele and how this ruling will affect their best intention of public beach front ownership.

WEIGHING Subsequent Actions

“Today’s choice proves what just about every Mainer who relies on our shoreline knows to be real – Maine’s intertidal dilemma is significantly from settled,” Ford wrote in an email. “This decision offers us quite a few selections on up coming techniques and we are weighing those solutions carefully. We thank the court for its diligence in addressing these challenges and are keen to carry on toward reclaiming the coast of Maine for all Mainers.”

Attorneys who symbolize most of the defendants reported they had been delighted with the determination. Five of 10 defendants will be solely freed from the lawsuit. In 2019, the Supreme Judicial Courtroom found that rockweed is on private residence and can no lengthier be harvested devoid of authorization from landowners. In this circumstance, O’Neil located that those five persons have been currently being sued only simply because they possibly identified as the Maine Marine Patrol on rockweed harvesters in the intertidal zones around their assets or advocated for rockweed conservation.

“If the plaintiffs’ conclusion to identify the Webpages, Li and Newby had nothing at all to do with their experiences to Maine Maritime Patrol, then it is curious why each and every solitary shorefront house operator who promises title to adjacent intertidal land is not named in this match,” O’Neil wrote.

O’Neil dismissed the claims versus that team of defendants as a violation of Maine’s Anti-SLAPP statute, which is meant to deter this sort of lawsuits. (SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuits Towards General public Participation.”)


“It’s a really fantastic outcome and the final result they had been asking for,” legal professional Gordon Smith, who represents individuals 5 persons, mentioned Wednesday. “They really do not want to be in litigation. They have been just training their legal rights as they comprehended them.”

One particular of these defendants was Robin Hadlock Seeley, a maritime scientist and 1 of the founders of the Maine Rockweed Coalition, a nonprofit that promotes conservation.

“It strengthened the legal rights of landowners, like coastal land trusts, to protect important marine landscape and protect against indiscriminate habitat destruction,” she stated of the buy on Wednesday.


The choose also dismissed 3 promises that put forth distinct arguments about why the condition is the legitimate proprietor of the intertidal zone. O’Neil explained the Supreme Judicial Court had negated all those arguments in previous viewpoints, and the plaintiffs could not make their situation by difficult land conveyances from the seventeenth century.

“Based on the specifics plead in this grievance, even seen in the most favorable light probable, this motion to quiet title to the intertidal lands on the Point out of Maine has been brought 120 years far too late,” O’Neil wrote.


Legal professional David Silk, who represents two LLCs that possess beachfront residence in Wells, reported the question of ownership is “well-settled.”

“We are pleased to see the courtroom agreed that the law in Maine is perfectly-settled concerning ownership of Maine’s intertidal land,” Silk wrote in an e mail.

He did not deal with the remaining assert towards his consumers about general public use of the intertidal zone around their attributes. The complaint says access to the intertidal zone on Moody Beach front has been limited by signage or verbal instruction to depart or stay absent from that extend of sand. O’Neil wrote that it is not very clear whether things to do these types of as strolling, operating or executing research are permitted in the intertidal zone, but it is achievable that they are. Settling that problem could be a single next step in the litigation.

An lawyer who represented one more LLC could not be reached Wednesday afternoon. Two defendants are not represented by any attorney.

Maine has 3,500 miles of tidal shoreline – in accordance to point out officers, the fourth longest in the United States. Most of it is rock, and sand beach locations are uncommon. The justices who read the Moody Beach case in the 1980s are no for a longer period on the Supreme Judicial Court. But their successors have ruled various occasions about seaside entry and possession in the decades since. Those situations have frequently targeted on the that means of “fishing, fowling and navigation” in a modern context.


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