BELFAST — City councilors were expected to discuss action at their Aug. 3 meeting that one councilor said was intended to clear the city’s title to a disputed parcel of intertidal land. The agenda item refers to two state statutes, one regulating eminent domain and the other covering town way easements. It is not yet clear whether the city is seeking to take the land.

Local environmental organization Upstream Watch announced it has hired attorney Wesley Horton in response to what it said was an effort to take by eminent domain land at 282 Northport Ave. where Nordic Aquafarms wants to lay intake and outflow pipes for its proposed land-based fish farm. The area is still under civil dispute in Waldo County Superior Court.

Horton argued and won in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2005 case involving eminent domain in Connecticut where private property was taken for an industrial park to revitalize a city.

It has been rumored for the past few weeks that the city would move to take the intertidal area by eminent domain after it acquired the former Janet and Richard Eckrote property earlier last month.

The intertidal property is tied up in civil court, where Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace claim historic deeds prove they own the intertidal property. The Eckrotes maintained that they owned the intertidal property before they sold it to Nordic. Justice Robert Murray has not yet ruled in the case.

After buying the property, Nordic then donated it to the city in exchange for an easement that will allow the company to place pipes across the upland and intertidal zones. The city maintains that it acquired the intertidal land with the upland property when Nordic gave the parcel to the city.

Councilor Mike Hurley told The Republican Journal Tuesday the lawsuit clouds the title of the property for now, but if the council approves the action on Tuesday night’s agenda, it will “clear that cloud upon completion.”

In an email to The Journal, he wrote, “Regardless of how the courts eventually clarify the issue as to who owns the intertidal the City is moving ahead to grant an easement for the pipes through the legal process.

“There is no ‘taking of land’ as there will be a trench dug, pipes laid, and the land restored to whomever owns it to continue the uses that have always taken place there.”

Hurley reiterated, “An easement to lay pipes is not ‘taking that land.’”

Upstream Watch President Amy Grant said she heard that the city might be taking the intertidal zone through eminent domain a couple of months ago and has been preparing for that possibility. She thinks the city is trying to preempt the judge’s decision on who owns the property.

She said the Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area already allows for public access to the intertidal area. Mabee and Grace entered into a conservation agreement first with Upstream Watch, then it was transferred to the Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area.

The conservation area consists of intertidal lots in front of several properties to the north of Mabee and Grace’s upland property, including the intertidal area in front of Mabee and Grace’s upland lot. The couple claim historic deeds prove they own all of those intertidal lots.

Upstream Watch said in its press release Aug. 3 that the city is taking the property for a private entity, not for the public benefit. “Taking private property by the government for private gain has serious legal consequences,” the press release said.

Bill Kelly, legal counsel for the city on this matter, and Mayor Eric Sanders did not respond to requests for comment before press time.

 

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