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Mass. Nixes Opening Beach to Public

August 7, 2002

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BOSTON (AP) _ The state’s high court on Wednesday threw out a plan to open a stretch of a tiny Nantucket beach to the public, ruling that county commissioners improperly invoked a state law to seize private land.

The Supreme Judicial Court overturned a lower court ruling, and argued officials could not use a state law to seize the 2 acres of land along the island’s shoreline because they never intended to build a road with it.

The law allows the taking of private land to build highways. The Nantucket County commissioners said they wanted to open the stretch of Surfside Beach to ``preserve historic rights of way to the sea,″ according to court documents.

``The commissioners here made an end run around that process by creating a beach and calling it a highway,″ said Howard Blatchford, a lawyer for landowners who challenged the commission’s decision.

A lawyer for the county’s board of commissioners did not immediately return a telephone call Wednesday.

The lawsuit stems in part from an 1889 subdivision map of the Surfside section of the island, which created a series of 45-foot wide strips of land running from the land to the water.

The subdivision was never built and ownership of the strips of land, known as ``paper roads,″ reverted to neighboring property owners.

In 1998, county commissioners sought to acquire the land by eminent domain, saying they wanted to guarantee that future generations could continue to freely use the beach area.

Property owners said they have always informally allowed the public on private beaches.

``This is not a public access to the beach issue,″ said Tom Quigley, 61, a Nantucket summer resident since 1952. ``All we wanted was the status quo.″

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