SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Selectmen, concerned about preserving public access to a town cemetery, agreed Tuesday to hold off on putting an easement agreement before voters until after getting legal advice.
Access to the Gilley Burial Grounds was in place until H. Lee and Ann Judd built a home next to the Fernald Point Road cemetery. A circular driveway and landscaping prevented the town’s public works crew from using the existing road to maintain the cemetery. In July, town manager and code enforcement officer Don Lagrange directed the Judds to provide a new description of the easement deed that would maintain legal access without disrupting the work the couple had done.
Selectmen on Tuesday were presented with the new easement. Lagrange was recommending that the board approve a motion to put the easement before voters to consider at the May town meeting. Voter approval is needed for the easement to be in effect.
However, selectmen were not convinced that the easement, as written, gave the public easy access to the historic cemetery. Chad Terry was first to bring up that point.
“I think access to a public cemetery has been blocked,” Terry said after looking at a plan showing the easement and the Judd property.
Lagrange admitted the agreement only allows for the town to use the easement, saying it was designed to protect the town from any liability when accessing the cemetery.
Chairman Tom Benson brought up another point. The town recently formed a committee charged with the restoration and maintenance of old cemeteries. Benson called for assurances that committee members would not be denied access.
Lydia Goetze echoed the concerns of Terry and Benson.
“We have to reaffirm public access,” she said.
Public works supervisor Scott Alley told selectmen that the landscaping on the property makes it difficult for the town crew to drive a truck to the cemetery. Employees have been parking on the Fernald Point Road, where they unload the riding mower and other equipment. Before the Judds built, the access road was “paved all the way to the cemetery,” he said.
The board called for getting a legal opinion on the Judds’ proposed easement before discussing the matter further.
“I don’t think we should do anything tonight,” said Dan Norwood. “We need to clarify this.”
According to research by the Mount Desert Island Historical Society, the Gilley Burying Ground is on a 100-acre parcel that William Gilley owned in 1808. There are about 40 marked graves and numerous unmarked graves. The earliest death recorded on a marker is 1843. One of the graves is that of a Civil War veteran.
In other business Tuesday, selectmen decided that voters at the May town meeting will get to weigh in on whether to finance $2.36 million in infrastructure improvements. The improvements include paving projects, repairs to a bulkhead and some replacement of water lines.
Selectmen unanimously approved a motion to put an article on the May 2 ballot asking voters to approve funding the work by either a bond issue or loan.
The work would include the resurfacing of the Fernald Point Road, the Robinson Hill Road, Claremont Road, Village Green Way and related municipal parking, as well as paving portions of the Clark Point Road, Shore Road and the Freeman Ridge Road. Replacement of water pipes along Robinson Hill, the Claremont Road and Cedar Lane is proposed along with repairs to a bulkhead on the Clark Point Road.
Norwood pointed out that the suggested work was no surprise; the needs had been discussed at meetings of the infrastructure committee.
“These are the projects the committee felt were of the highest priority,” he said. “We felt it was worthy to put before voters.”