Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Maine Supreme Court Ruling Expands Scuba Divers' Beach Access Rights

While the justices split evenly on the interpretation of why a scuba diver is allowed to use the intertidal zone, the decision itself was unanimous.

Surfers are among those celebrating a Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling that expands beach rights for scuba divers and leaves room for others to argue that they, too, should have greater access to the ocean.

In a 6-0 decision last week, the court upheld the right of an Eastport scuba diver to reach Passamaquoddy Bay by crossing the wet sand of beach property owned by a neighbor.

The public's right to use the intertidal zone – the land between the mean high- and low-tide marks – has long been a bone of contention in Maine, where coastal ownership law dates back to a 17th century ordinance limiting public use of the area between high and low tide to "fishing, fowling and navigation."

Adam Steinman, a lawyer who also surfs, filed a brief in the case – taken up by the court last November – on behalf of the national Surfrider Foundation.

"From the Surfriders' perspective and from the perspective of the people of Maine and getting access to a very unique resource, the ocean is not really very good if you can't get there," Steinman said. "And if the only way to get there at low tide is by crossing what arguably is private land, then you have a problem. I think this case opens that up."

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