Maine Court Decisions on Beach AccessThere is a wealth of information within the Maine Court decisions on beach access.  From the prevailing decisions, dissenting opinions, and supporting background, these decisions provide a lot of insight into what the current laws are and where future decisions and actions regarding public access may lead.  And with a little effort you don't even need a lawyer to understand them.


Bell vs. Town of Wells I (1986):
Bell vs. Town of Wells II (1989): [Synopsis:  This is the decision that concluded that Maine State Law regarding beach access was based on a 1647 Colonial Ordinance from Massachusetts stating that beach front property owners owned the beach and the public only had access for the purposes of fishing, fowling, and navigation.  It also denied the public a prescriptive easement to access Moody Beach for recreational purposes based on historical usage.]
Eaton vs. Town of Well (2000): [Synopsis:  This case granted the public a prescriptive easement for access to Wells Beach for recreational purposes based on historical usage.]

Mcgarvey vs. Whittredge (2011): [Synopsis:  This decision determined that scuba diving was an acceptable activity on the beach under the public trust doctrine, although it was indeterminate regarding whether scuba diving was a form of navigation or was an expansion of allowable activities beyond fishing, fowling and navigation.]
Almeder vs. Town of Kennebunkport (December 2014):

[Synopsis:  This decision vacated a lower court ruling that determined that the public had a prescriptive easement for Goose Rocks Beach, and that several more beach activities were allowable under the public trust doctrine..............  This decision also includes the supreme court reconsideration that occurred AFTER the decision was made, which provided the Town a path to challenge ocean-front properties' deeds to the beach on a lot by lot basis which occurred with the April 2018 superior court decision below. ]

Almeder vs. Town of Kennebunkport - Fee Title Claim (April 2018):

[Synopsis:  Superior court decision that gave the Town of Kennebunkport ownership of Goose Rocks Beach from the seawall to the ocean in front of 96 % of the ocean-front properties considered.  The case was based on deed histories of the properties and the town's dealings with common lands.  The deed histories showed that 96 % of the properties considered did not legally convey ownership to the beach. This case may be appealed.  Although the decision only applies to Goose Rocks Beach, the case may have future implications for beaches with similar deed histories.]


Coastal Beach Land Deed Research Study

See here for the full report generated by the study:

This study was partially funded by the Town of Wells.  Amongst other things, the report focuses on several Moody Beach property deed histories and whether or not the properties can trace ownership of the beach through legally conveyed deeds.  For the limited sample of properties researched, it appears that many ocean-front properties may not have deed histories that legally provide ownership to the beach.  The report does not cover how shaky deed histories might impact current beach ownership, although it is interesting that an April 2018 superior court decision ( see link below) found 96% of the Goose Rocks beach properties considered DID NOT have deeds legally conveying beach  ownership and reinstated the Town of Kennebunkport as the owners to the beach in front of their properties. 

Below there is also a link to a video of a presentation on the research study (Part 5 of the "From Moody Beach to Goose Rocks" series)..

From Moody Beach to Goose Rocks Series

During 2014 - the 25th anniversary of the Maine Supreme Court decision regarding Moody beach access - a 5 part speaker series was hosted by  Wells Reserve at Laudholm, Maine Sea Grant College Program, and attorney and professor John Duff, in which the evolving laws surrounding public access and private ownership of Maine's shoreline was explored.  

This series was an invaluable opportunity to learn about the laws, lessons learned, and background surrounding Maine's fight for shortline access.  See below for links to a description of the event as well as videos of each part (available for 3 of the 4 parts).

See the "Commentary" page for's insights on each of the 1st four meetings.

Part 1:  Setting the Legal and Policy Stage

See the Commentary page for a write-up on the event. (There is no video for this event)

Part 2:  The Ocean-front Owner's Perspective:  Sidney "Pete" Thaxter and Ben Leoni, attorneys from the Portland law firm Curtis Thaxter, present the points of view of coastal property owners and their rights as spelled out in Moody Beach, Goose Rocks Beach, and other decisions. Mr. Thaxter presented the oral arguments for the landowners before the Supreme Court in Moody Beach in 1988 and Goose Rocks Beach in 2013. Mr. Leoni was one of the lead attorneys for Curtis Thaxter in the Goose Rocks Case and helped develop the legal arguments that led to the state's supreme court ruling in their clients' favor.

See here of a video of the event:

  • Also, see the Commentary page for a write-up on the event.

Part 3:  Panel Discussion:  A panel discussion at the UMaine School of Law Moot Court Room with participants professor John Duff (moderator); professor emeritus Orlando Delogu; attorneys Pete Thaxter, Durward Parkinson, Amy Tchao, and Ben Leoni; and president of Maine Coast Heritage Trust Tim Glidden.  Panelists share their views on the court cases that have helped define private ownership and public use of Maine's intertidal zone and dry sandy beaches. The professors and attorneys have all been deeply involved in this issue — and its key court cases — while Glidden has spent 20 years securing public access to the Maine coast through land acquisition and organizational agreements.

See here for a video of the event:

  • Also, see the Commentary page for a write-up on the event.

Part 4:  Perspectives from a SC Judge and a Beach Access Advocate:  In this lecture, former Maine Supreme Court Justice Daniel Wathen and attorney and advocate Adam Steinman will present their perspectives on beach use and ownership issues.  Judge Wathen wrote the minority (dissenting) opinion in Bell v. the Town of Wells (Moody Beach case) in 1989, and joined the majority in Eaton v. the Town of Wells (Wells Beach case) in 2000.  Representing Surfrider's Maine chapter, Mr. Steinman successfully argued the issues of Public Trust Doctrine and the Colonial Ordinance in front of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in McGarvey v. Whittredge to expand the definition of allowable uses in the intertidal zone to include SCUBA diving. He also filed briefs on behalf of Surfrider before the Law Court on Almeder v. Town of Kennebunkport (the Goose Rocks Beach case).

See here for a video of the event: 

  • Also, see the Commentary page for a write-up on the event.

Part 5:  Who Owns the Beach?  Investigations into the Historical Ownership of the Maine Coast:  This presentation is by historian Robert Yarumian and surveyor Edwin Churchill (who specializes in boundary surveys and complicated deed research, often tracing parcels back to when a town was first settled), and reveals the findings of their recent coastal land deed research, in which they examined old property deeds and the transfer of ownership from the 1600s in the Town of Wells in an effort to determine who really owns the beach.

Interestingly, an attendee of this series - Peter Moody- who on his own researched historical deeds in Wells from the 17th century to the present inspired a more comprehensive look at the deeds and whether beach ownership has been conveyed to todays oceanfront property owners.

See here for a video of the event:

  • Also see above for a link to the full report generated by the study.

Part 6:  Professor Orlando Delogu:  Join distinguished law professor Orlando E. Delogu as he advocates for a re-examination of court cases that ceded title to Maine’s intertidal lands to upland owners and limited public use of these lands to “fishing, fowling, and navigation.” An extended question and answer session will follow professor Delogu’s presentation.

See here for a video of the event:


Goose Rocks Beach websites:

[Synopsis:  websites supporting the Goose Rocks Beach case.  Lots of good info here.  (Interestingly the save-our-beaches website and domain name was apparently hijacked from the founder of the website and the currnet owner of the save-our-beaches facebook page when he failed to renew the domain name in time.)]

The Surfrider Foundation's

The Surfrider Foundation - one of the biggest advocates of public beach access in Maine and across the country - is the creator of this website.  This website has a wealth of information regarding beach access in Maine and throughout the United States.  It also contains a plethora of detailed useful information about beaches and the issues that surround them.