Dobbins Island Dispute

Below is article written by Allison Bourg, staff writer for the Maryland Gazette, and published on line on  Dobbins Island is in the Magothy River adjacent to Pasadena, Maryland.  Although it has always been owned privately, for generations it was used as a de-facto public park, as it has not been inhabited in recent memory.  In the past few years, however, its current owners (the Clickners) have taken greater efforts to keep the public off of the interior of the island and to obtain a variance and building permit that would allow them to have a residence there.  The Clickners eventually put up a wood and rope fence around the entire perimeter of the island, which fence runs partly along the beach and in places, actually in the water.  The Magothy River Association then filed suit seeking to have the entire island declared to be publicly accessible and challenging the Clickner’s right to put a fence below the mean high tide line.

This author’s prediction is that the Court will find that the interior of the island remains private property, but that to the fence cannot be extended below the mean high tide line.  Under Maryland law, anything below the mean high tide line is owned by the State and preserved for public use under the public trust doctrine.  Generally speaking, beaches and any other area that is covered during a Spring tide is below the mean high tide line.  (Additional Note – August, 2010 — the Circuit Court did make this determination and the Clickners have removed significant portions of the fence over the summer.)

Judge hears case for a public Dobbins beach

Magothy River Association, Clicker battle again over controversial island

By ALLISON BOURG, Staff Writer Published 09/12/09

As a young girl, Carol Auer spent many weekends on the shore of Dobbins Island, swimming and playing in the sand. As an adult, she continued the tradition, kayaking there and hosting picnics.

But since owners David and Diana Clickner erected a fence on the north side of the Magothy River island, she hasn’t been able to do any of those things.

“I don’t go there anymore. It upsets me,” the Arnold woman testified before county Circuit Court Judge Ronald Silkworth.

She and other members of the Magothy River Association were in court this week arguing that the controversial island’s beach always has been public, and it should stay that way.

Last fall, the MRA sued the Clickners over their right to use the beach. The trial, which is set to continue on Sept. 24, is the latest battle between the Clickners and the volunteer environmental group.

The Ellicott City couple bought the island five years ago with the intention of building a home there. The county granted the Clickners permission to do so, but the MRA and other environmental groups have been fighting him ever since.

Most of MRA lawyer Ann Fligsten’s argument this week centered around where David Clickner built the fence. The MRA contends that he built it below the mean high water line, the boundary between private and state-owned property.

“We’re not taking his property. This is a boundary dispute,” Fligsten said. “The public use rights in place have been established for decades. We’re here to dispute the line, literally in the sand, that the Clickners have drawn.”

Auer, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the mean high water line is about where the sand changes from wet to dry.

“And the fence isn’t there,” Auer said. “I’ve never seen a fence in the water before anywhere on the river.”

Barbara Palmer, an attorney with Annapolis law firm Blumenthal, Delavan and Williams, said the Clickners believe the surveyors they hired properly set the line.

“And Mr. Clickner has a right to his property.” Palmer said.

Palmer said Thursday she plans to call Annapolis land surveyor John Dowling to testify that the line was drawn correctly.

On Wednesday, David Clickner testified that the fence was built 6 inches inside the mean water line with permission from the county.

Clickner said trespassing and vandalism have long been a problem on the island, and he blamed the MRA for much of that.

“The Magothy River Association has gotten increasingly aggressive about the island being public property,” Clickner said.

The island is known for its steep slopes, and someone could get hurt if they try to climb them, he said.

“If someone falls off a 40-foot cliff, we could be liable for that,” Clickner said. “We have done our due diligence to keep people off the island.”

Clickner angrily called MRA members “a bunch of hypocrites,” attacking the nonprofit for hosting its annual Magothy River Day wade-in and boat party off the shores of the island.

“Instead of treating the island like it’s in the Critical Area, they put forth efforts to publicize these events, tearing up the underwater grasses they’re supposed to be protecting,” he said. “They are aggressively raping the environment.”

Outside the courtroom, MRA President Paul Spadaro waved away Clickner’s accusations.

He said Clickner’s fence has encouraged boaters to tie their vessels to it, destroying the beach.

“He’s made a parking lot of that beach,” Spadaro said.

On the stand, he clarified that Magothy River Day takes place on the sandbar off the island, public property.

“(Dobbins Island) was a destination. It is a destination,” Spadaro said.