By Beth David*, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard met with residents and representatives of the West Island Improvement Association on Monday, 12/16/19, to discuss the ongoing dispute about ownership of the beach on Causeway Road.
Selectboard chairperson Charles K. Murphy, Sr., read a letter from the WIIA asking the board to reconsider its decision not to pursue the clearing of the title on the beach. In the letter, the WIIA said that the record reflects that the town did not intend to take the north side when they took the beach for back taxes, a point that the town disputes. The town contends that it intended to take the whole parcel, which includes beaches on the north and south sides of Causeway Road.
Town Counsel Thomas Crotty explained that the situation arose when the town was looking for a piece of town property to swap for the parkland being used for the Oxford School project. During that search, the town discovered that there was a question about the title on the Causeway Road beach that has been used as a public beach for many years, and is posted as a public beach maintained by the Board of Public Works.
The town sent a letter to Dan Ristuccia who owned the parcel when it was taken for back taxes. Mr. Ristuccia decided he wanted to get the property back and give it to the WIIA for members to use.
Meanwhile, the town found another piece of property to swap for the Oxford project.
The board decided not to pursue the clearing of the title.
However, the WIIA and Mr. Ristuccia had retained an attorney who has been actively working to get the property back to Mr. Ristuccia and the WIIA.
Mr. Crotty told the board at the meeting that the town had no need to clear the title on the beach property.
He said the WIIA and Mr. Ristuccia can go ahead and do that, but the town should not spend money to do it because they do not need it.
“We don’t have a dog in that race,” said Mr. Crotty.
He said if the WIIA wants to pursue it, they can, and the town will respond.
Attorney Matthew J. Thomas, representing the WIIA, had a different opinion on the matter.
He said it was clear that the town made a mistake, and that it does not own the north side beach.
Mr. Thomas said his clients are willing to give the town the south side, but a subdivision plan will have to be created.
There is some confusion on whether the parcel is considered one piece or two.
Mr. Thomas promised to pursue the matter fully, and said it would end up costing the town a lot of money.
A purchase and sale agreement had been all set, he said, when the town backed out.
The deal would end up with the WIIA owning the property, and it would no longer be used a public beach.
Mr. Thomas said, however, that the association and Mr. Ristuccia want the beach to be open for use by West Island residents.
“This is not a public beach,” said Mr. Thomas. “It is private property.”
He said there was never a foreclosure done on the property.
“The town is not losing a public beach property,” he said.
The beach has been posted as public, however, for several years, and has been used for decades by residents.
Selectboard member Daniel Freitas said he had wanted to know if people could use the beach. He said he would get calls and he wanted to know what he was agreeing to.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola said he wanted to know who would be restricted from using the beach if the WIIA owned it.
Lisa Esten, President of the WIIA, said that the south side would be town owned, so the general public could use that side.
WIIA member David Hickox said that the problem was created when the town took the land, he said they did not intend to take the north side.
Mr. Crotty said that it was not at all clear that the town did not own the piece. He said the town took the whole lot, and there has been no ambiguity there for 15 years. He said Mr. Ristuccia thought the town owned it for 15 years and now they are “latching onto some scribbles” on the title.
Mr. Crotty noted that there are a lot of costs associated with a subdivision plan and other aspects of Mr. Thomas’s proposals.
Mr. Thomas said that he sent over two proposals, and there were two sticking points: One, that the board wanted the beach to be public, but, he said, that’s “not going to happen.”
He said the public works department has since said they can do the plan, and everyone would pay their own lawyers fees. He offered to send the proposal again to Mr. Crotty.
“Sounds like a great idea,” said Mr. Freitas, adding that he was favoring the idea of giving the beach to the WIIA.
Mr. Espindola however was not so sure. He said people have been using the beach for years and might suddenly be restricted. He said he was not ready support it.
Mr. Murphy, who is a member of the WIIA as a “friend” because he does not live on West Island, was appointed to negotiate with the WIIA. The board will discuss it at the next meeting, which is scheduled for 1/13. The next court day is 1/14, but that will likely be changed.
*Editor Beth David owns property on West Island, and attorney Matthew J. Thomas is related to her by marriage.
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