Town responds to Salmon Point Road lawsuit

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Bridgton has filed its response to Carol Martini’s lawsuit regarding public use of private Salmon Point Road.

Martini, a property owner off Salmon Point Road, filed for a declaratory judgment on Aug. 15 in Superior Court in Portland.

In Count 1, Martini seeks a declaratory judgment that Salmon Point Road is a private way, declares that defendant (Town of Bridgton) has no legal right of access, requires the town to cease all actions that direct traffic over the private way, requires the town to remove all points and cause for access over Martini’s property, and requires the town to compensate Martini for attorney fees and costs.

In Count 2, the suit claims continued use of Martini’s property constitutes an illegal and ongoing trespass, which has caused plaintiff (Martini) harm. Such “interference” has caused a reduction in property value and her inability to enjoy the land.

Claiming the town’s action is a nuisance, Martini is seeking “damages, costs and attorney fees,” according to the suit.

The town had 20 days to file a written response. Attorneys Agnieska Dixon, David Kallin and Richard Spencer of Drummond Woodsum of Portland filed the town’s argument on Sept. 12.

“This case arises from disagreements between the parties regarding the rights possessed by the town and the public to an approximately 1,100-foot long segment of Salmon Point Road to access the town’s fee-owned property and to access Long Lake…” the brief says.

Last fall, the town relocated a parking lot and installed a footpath and directional signs. The parking change was to address “user conflicts,” “safety concerns” and “preserve some expectation of privacy for lessees” at the campground.

“The plaintiff (Martini) alleges that these actions redirected public pedestrian and vehicular traffic onto and over the road segment so as to overburden it. She further alleges that the town and the public have no right of access over it. The record, however, shows that the plaintiff has little likelihood of success on the merits because the town and the public do have rights of access over and across the road segment, and by installing the parking lots (one is a small handicapped lot), footpath and signage, the town has taken steps to ameliorate the level of public use of the road segment even though it is not required to do so,” the brief says.

In 1987, the town acquired a fee simple title from Joseph and Lynne Kavanaugh to two parcels of land — one Salmon Point Campground, which included 124 feet of the road segment, and two Salmon Point. The town’s 1987 deed “expressly conveyed to the town an easement for vehicular and foot traffic over a portion of the road segment between the campground lot and the Salmon Point lot,” the brief notes.

The plaintiff (Martini) purchased two parcels along with fee interest in a portion of the road segment from the Kavanaughs two years later.

“The plaintiff’s 1989 deed expressly provides that the Kavanaughs made no covenants or warranties whatsoever with respect to the conveyance of the fee in that portion of the road segment…the plaintiff’s deed conveys only the interest that the Kavanaughs held at that time — which by virtue of the town’s 1987 deed, does not include the roughly 124-foot stretch of the road segment that the town holds in fee,” the brief says.

The town argues:

  1. The town holds a statutory private right-of-way over the road segment. “This private right expires only if the subdivision roads are not built within 20 years from the date of recording of the subdivision plan, otherwise the private right-of-way over the roads exist in perpetuity…In this case, the road segment was constructed within 20 years of the date of recording of the subdivision plan…”
  2. The town holds a deeded right to traverse the portion of the road segment between the campground lot and the Salmon Point lot.
  3. The town holds an implied easement over the road segment. “Maine courts have recognized that easements not specifically described and granted in the instruments of conveyance may be implied by the circumstances surrounding the property…”
  4. The public has a common law right of pedestrian access to Long Lake. “Consequently, the Law Court has held that the Maine common law, interpreted according to the terms of the Colonial Ordinance’s grant, vests in the public right to cross privately-owned land to access a great pond…”
  5. The town and the public have not overburdened the road segment.

The brief also says Counts 2 and 3 brought by Martini are barred by the town’s immunity under the Maine Tort Claims Act.

Selectmen approved withdrawing $15,000 from the Salmon Point Unassigned Fund Balance to defend the town. Costs include a survey, which is nearly complete by Sawyer Engineering & Surveying Inc. of Bridgton (estimated cost of services, $3,550), and legal fees.

Now, both sides play the waiting game so see how the court will rule.

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