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Case Study: Securing Community Shore Access by Eminent Domain

Oscar Look, a volunteer harbormaster in Addison, describes eminent domain as an access strategy that is "simple, but not easy. The best way to get shore access is to have someone give it to you," he says. "The next best way is to buy it." What happens, though, when those options fail?

The dedicated committee that formed to acquire shore access in Addison was determined to succeed. They sought block grants and persuaded town residents to help fund the acquisition of an appropriate parcel. That land, though, sold to another buyer. The Committee decided to seek a town vote that would allow purchase of the parcel by eminent domain. Their controversial action led to a heated town meeting where residents supported the purchase by a margin of 150 to 120.

Look considered eminent domain as a tool only for extreme emergencies and voted against its use. Now he concedes that "shoreland access has come to that crisis level." Eminent domain only works on properties without residences that clearly benefit the public welfare. It is, Look concedes, a "heavy-handed and distasteful" approach. But in Addison, the benefits of a new landing have helped heal the divisions that arose in its creation.

[Adapted from the Maine Coastal Program's newsletter, Maine Coastline, Summer 2003]

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