Bob and Gayle Edson and their attorney Bruce McGlauflin appeared at a Woolwich Planning Committee special public hearing Monday, hoping for some relief in accessing their 1910 cottage, Rock Cottage, on Nequasset Lake. The property has been in the Edsons’ family three generations. During that time, the family has always accessed the property via the Bath Water District property adjacent to their camp, according to letters from the Edsons and their lawyer.
The letters were read into the record without dispute from BWD.
According to the letters, the Bath Water District abruptly cut off the Edsons' access in January after the agency had allowed access and facilitated their access, through the use of key cards and access codes, since taking over the old Bath Water Company facility in 1914. Bob Edson, suffering from a brain tumor, cannot negotiate the wooded areas that are the rights-of-way the district says is the legal access to their camp. Another potential access is by water, but Edson said he cannot manage a boat at this point, either. While their daughter has hiked to the camp, neither Bob nor Gayle has seen it since January. A road to their camp through this site would cost at least $60,000, not counting the costs of exercising their legal rights-of-way, the Edsons said, citing an estimate from Jack Shaw.
BWD Director Trevor Hunt said through his attorney, the size of the new facility would not allow for an access road through to the Edson’s camp, and even if it could be arranged, new security protocols meant only BWD personnel with reason to be there would be allowed on the site. However, the Edsons’ attorney countered that the new security protocols went into effect immediately after 9-1-1, in 2002, and the couple was only forbidden from using the road this year.
The Edsons said only they and their guests had access through the BWD site; BWD’s attorney said it was not clear that the Edsons had not given the code to other people.
The attorney for BWD admitted in a letter, the BWD trustees had refused to meet with the couple even though the Public Utilities Commission had asked that BWD and the Edsons meet to come to some agreement. The Edsons said, and BWD acknowledged, there was no discussion with the property owners.
Gregg Buczkowski, chair of the Woolwich Planning Committee, said the committee was not where the Edsons could get relief. “This is a civil case,” he said. “You may have to take them to court.”
BWD appeared at the committee to determine if a site plan would be required for the new facility, and also to identify the necessary setback, since the property is in the Shoreland Zone. The board determined a site plan was not applicable, because the district was not a commercial enterprise, although members Tom Stoddard and Debbie Locke held that the district is a commercial entity under the Shoreland Zoning definition. The next issue was whether a 100-foot setback or a 250-foot setback would be required. This was a slightly more complicated issue, as the town has a special designation that is more restrictive than the state’s Shoreland Zoning rules, and the proposed development falls into that zone, known as a resource protection zone. However, Buczkowski, after reading the town’s ordinance, said the committee had the authority to determine the use is compatible with protecting the resource. The committee voted to permit the new pumping station, 6-0, with Stoddard abstaining.
The Edsons said they are not sure what their next legal steps are; there may be a case for presumed right-of-way, since the district had allowed it for so many years. They also said that because their access predated the BWD taking over the property in 1914, their access may be grandfathered in some way, but either case would require a long legal battle, and they are not certain they’d win. “Then we’d be where we are now,” Edson said. The couple said BWD has offered to buy their property, but they will refuse to sell. “This is how they’re dealing with all the property owners on the lake,” Edson said. “They’re bullies. They’ll never get our property.”