Session: Courting Opinions: Ownership, Access, and Use of the Maine Coast

Moderator: Paul Dest

Paul Dest is the executive director of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. He has a long-standing interest in access and ownership of the Maine coast – from policy to the practical. Over the past 10 years he has coordinated numerous workshops and presentations on court cases and issues relating to this topic. He was the co-project leader on the publication called “Public Shoreline Access in Maine: A Citizen’s Guide to Ocean and Coastal Law” and co-editor of the “Maine Coastal Access Guide” series. Personally and professionally, Paul has been active for decades in protecting land along the coast of Maine for people and wildlife.

While the legal opinions of the judicial branch of state government can be difficult to interpret and at times confusing to understand, they have an impact on the everyday lives of residents, visitors, and landowners of the Maine coast. This session seeks to shed light on two Maine Supreme Judicial Court decisions that influenced what is a permissible use in the intertidal zone and who owns a stretch of beautiful shoreline in a York County town. It further presents the latest challenge to past Supreme Court decisions about who actually owns the land between the tides in Maine. The goal of this session is to increase public awareness and understanding of complex legal issues and the court decisions that govern our lives along the coast of Maine.

An indigenous perspective on land stewardship v. ownership

Denise Pouliot, Sag8moskwa (Female Head Speaker) of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki People

Denise K. Pouliot is the Sag8moskwa (Female Head Speaker) of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki People and traditional artist.  She currently serves on the New Hampshire Commission on Native American Affairs, is a Federal Religious Advisor for the Department of Justice, the treasurer for COWASS North America and the Abenaki Nation of Vermont, and a founding member of the Indigenous New Hampshire Collaborative Collective. Denise is also an Affiliate Faculty member of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Native American and Indigenous Studies Minor and recipient of the UNH Platinum Sustainability Award for community building. In 2021, she was named as one of The Nature Conservancy’s 60 individuals and organizations that have positively impacted the natural world. In her spare time Denise creates coil, bark or woven baskets and produces traditional ceremonial clothing.  


Decisions, Decisions: Two law court opinions that deal with ownership (Almeder v. Town of Kennebunkport) and public trust rights and use of the intertidal zone (Ross v. Acadian Seaplants)

Amy Tchao, Drummond Woodsum
Gordon Smith, Verrill Dana

Amy Tchao is a shareholder at Drummond Woodsum in Portland, where she is the firm’s Practice Group Leader for Municipal Law.  For over two decades, Amy has served as town attorney for several coastal and lakefront Maine municipalities, and has specialized in resolving complex problems arising from shorefront development, access, and permitting issues.  One of the many communities Amy has represented is the Town of Kennebunkport. She was one of two attorneys in her law firm engaged in a lawsuit called Almeder v. Town of Kennebunkport, which concerned ownership and use of the wet and dry sand portions of Goose Rocks Beach. In 2019, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of the Town.

Gordon Smith is counsel at Verrill in Portland, Maine, where he heads the firm’s Coastal and Shoreland Practice Group and co-chairs the firm’s Appellate Practice Group. Gordon has represented parties to the major coastal land use and ownership cases in Maine in the past decade, notably Ross v. Acadian Seaplants, Ltd. and Almeder v. Town of Kennebunkport. Gordon also represents landowners and developers on a range of other environmental, land use, permitting, and real estate matters with particular experience in renewable energy development. He is the author of “Maine Land Use Law on Public Access” within MCLE New England’s “Practical Guide to Land Use in Maine.”   


Moody Redux: Perspective on current effort to have courts reexamine Bell v. the Town of Wells (“Moody Beach decision”)   

Benjamin Ford, Archipelago

Benjamin Ford is an attorney and a founding principal of Archipelago, a multidisciplinary professional services firm that provides legal, scientific, and policy advice to individuals and companies working in Maine’s blue economy. Ben began his career in the marine industry and has carried his love of the water into his legal practice. Ben specializes in legal issues affecting marine related businesses and works with many water dependent clients from marine mechanics, to boat builders, to international aquaculture companies. Ben also serves as Maine’s Honorary Consul to the Country of Iceland where he focuses on increasing trade relationships between Maine companies and their counterparts in Arctic and High North Atlantic.


Legal Perspectives and Questions: Amy Tchao, Gordon Smith, and Ben Ford provide perspectives on the two decided cases and the most recent challenge, and how they are interrelated

Amy Tchao, Gordon Smith, and Ben Ford bios above.