Legislative panel pans border change bill

Committee on State and Local Government votes 10-2 on legislation

By Beth Brogan, Times Record Staff
Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 2:08 PM EDT

BRUNSWICK — A 10-2 vote Friday by the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government shifted the tide on an effort by the town of Harpswell to change its border with Brunswick.

The move to claim land — mostly shellfish flats — now defined as Brunswick property derives from a long-standing effort by a Harpswell group known as the Carrying Place Assembly to restore what they assert to be a historical boundary that dates back more than 250 years.

LD 69, “An Act To Restore the Historical Town Boundary between Harpswell and Brunswick,” would reverse a 1998 agreement between Brunswick and Harpswell — that was then ratified by the Legislature. A similar effort failed in the Legislature last year.

Following a public hearing and previous work session with the legislative committee — and then two meetings of town-appointed committees — witnesses for both towns appeared before the committee again on Friday to argue their cases. After that testimony, legislators voted 10-2, with Rep. Michael Celli, R-Brewer absent, to recommend the bill “ought not to pass.” Celli plans to vote today, according to committee clerk Veronica Snowe.

That decisive committee vote against the proposed legislation signals LD 69’s likely failure as it moves to a vote of the full Maine House of Representatives.

“I’m certainly disappointed — there’s no question about that,” Jim Henderson, chairman of the Harpswell Board of Selectmen and a member of the team appointed to negotiate with Brunswick, said Monday. Town officials will now consider their options, Henderson said, adding, “Obviously, it’s going to be a difficult process considering the committee’s report.”
LD 69, “An Act To Restore the Historical Town Boundary between Harpswell and Brunswick,” would reverse a 1998 agreement between Brunswick and Harpswell — that was then ratified by the Legislature.

Henderson said he believes the Committee on State and Local Government seriously considered the proposal, but ultimately a majority of members based their decision on “whether Harpswell could cede all its regulatory authority over the intertidal zone to Brunswick … the committee claimed (that) at least they thought this would be a legal can of worms.”

Still, Henderson said the Legislature has “many, many times” passed other laws which affect other legislation and other statutes, and inserts a phrase “notwithstanding any other provision of law” to address any such conflict. Henderson believes the committee could have proposed such a solution to this bill, but “I think their decision was partly based on their conclusion about whether Harpswell’s proposal would be effective. I think secondly they just didn’t want to get into the fight.”

Brunswick Marine Resources Officer Dan Devereaux said Monday that the committee’s decision pleased him. He attributed it largely to the testimony of surveyor Bruce Martinson of Sitelines.

In a March 30, 2011, letter, Martinson wrote to Brunswick Town Manager Gary Brown that he surveyed the boundary in question during the 1990s for the town of Harpswell, and at the time reviewed the documents that the Carrying Place Assembly presented this year to the Legislature as “new” information. Martinson wrote that his opinion of the boundary remains unchanged.

“It probably impacted many (committee members) who were on the fence,” Devereaux said of Martinson’s testimony, although Harpswell negotiating committee member John Loyd dismissed Martinson’s work during a recent meeting, arguing that it “was done with a view toward facilitating (the 1998) agreement” between the two towns.

Devereaux said a number of Brunswick shellfish harvesters also attended Friday’s workshop in Augusta, including two who brought their families.

Devereaux said Sen. Nancy Sullivan, D-York, cast one of two votes supporting the proposed legislation, but announced that she would not debate the bill when it went to the floor of the House.

Still, Devereaux said, “I don’t think it’s over. I think we need to do some sort of talking with the other community’s citizens so we don’t continually go back to the Legislature. Maybe there’s something we can do to recognize there could have possibly been a line there some time within the last 225 years.”

Henderson said he told the legislative committee Friday that “essentially we had excellent and civil discussions with the Brunswick negotiating team on two occasions and were in no way acrimonious, and they were cordial discussions about our proposals. They were in no way argumentative, shall we say. Secondly, the whole process is sometimes characterized as a fight between Harpswell and Brunswick — which it absolutely, in my opinion and my team’s opinion — is not … it was a matter of an attempt to restore what we believe is the historic boundary, and we pursued every process we thought was reasonable.”

Despite Henderson’s characterization of talks as “civil” and “cordial,” Devereaux said the issue “caused tension between, particularly, the two marine resources factions of the towns.”

At a meeting of Bruns-wick’s Marine Resources Committee on Thursday, harvesters told him they’re “tired of getting pulled through the wringer,” Devereaux said. “They said that if it’s brought up again, they want the town to fight for all the land (ceded to Harpswell) in the 1998 agreement. They were ready to go into the ring and fight for it. They’re sick of worrying about whether they’re going to have a job next year.”

Asked about next steps for Harpswell, Henderson said the Board of Selectmen would be updated at its next meeting. As far as strategy, he said, “One possibility is to support the members of the committee who voted ‘ought to pass,’ … but it will be difficult to convince, at first, the House, and then the Senate. That’s probably as much as we can hope for at this point.”