WISCASSET (AP) – The town and the owner of a one-acre island in the Sheepscot River are at odds over who can use the island.

Bill Phinney two years ago purchased White’s Island, which is located in the middle of picturesque Wiscasset Harbor and connected to the shore by two town-owned footbridges that are 200 and 300 feet long.

The footbridges were closed in May after an engineering study concluded the bridge foundations needed repairs. Town officials have estimated that repairs could cost between $100,000 and $400,000.

Phinney has offered to pay for the repairs provided Wiscasset relinquish a 40-foot right of way it holds across the island. But at a special town meeting last month, residents voted 322 to 56 against his plan.

For now the bridges are posted with no-trespassing signs, meaning nobody can get to the island except by boat.

Don Jones, a Wiscasset resident, was among those who spurned Phinney’s offer at the last town meeting.

Phinney denies he is trying to curb public access.

“I’d still allow public access, by permission only. That has always been the history of this island,” said Phinney, a landscape architect. “I really don’t understand what the town’s intentions are.”

The stalemate also is putting at risk plans for a proposed 1,500-foot footbridge connecting a new residential development and marina on the mainland with White’s Island. If that bridge were ever built, it could provide a public walkway from Birch Point across White’s Island to Wiscasset village.

“It would be a beautiful walk, and a huge asset for the town,” said Scott Houldin, spokesman for Point East Land Trust Development Company.

But Phinney said increased foot traffic from the new housing development could cause lasting damage to the ecologically fragile island.

“Now isn’t the time to start thinking about giving up the public’s right of way over the island,” Jones said. “People have enjoyed this island for years. It’s a wonderful place to walk.”

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