Court To Resolve N.H.-Maine Dispute

Thursday, June 29th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to resolve a border dispute between New Hampshire and Maine over which state gets to claim the area of Portsmouth Harbor containing the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

The justices allowed New Hampshire to ``sue'' Maine in the nation's highest court without first having the dispute heard in any other court. The court invoked its ``original jurisdiction'' and agreed to serve as a trial court in the dispute.

The justices likely will appoint a ``special master'' to conduct hearings and collect evidence. Such cases usually take years to resolve.

Maine had argued that the Supreme Court already resolved the issue in its favor in 1976.

New Hampshire contends it has authority over all of Portsmouth Harbor, including the islands on which the naval shipyard is located. State officials say the state boundary extends to the low-water mark on the Maine shore of the harbor.

Maine says the border between the two states lies in the harbor's deepest channel, which would put the shipyard on Maine's side of the border.

``The shipyard has always been culturally, economically and politically connected to New Hampshire,'' that state's attorney general, Philip T. McLaughlin, said in court papers. However, he added, ``The Navy has increasingly treated Maine as the state with jurisdiction.''

Even though the shipyard is owned by the federal government, the state in which it is located can exercise some authority. McLaughlin said the boundary dispute is important now that the Navy has begun leasing some areas of the shipyard to private companies.

New Hampshire said there is ``substantial historical and legal evidence'' dating back to pre-Revolutionary times to support its claim of authority over the entire harbor. Rockingham County, N.H., was established in 1770 as including the entire harbor, the state's lawyers said.

A 1740 boundary-setting decree signed by King George II did not divide the harbor, New Hampshire's lawyers said.

However, Maine Attorney General Andrew Ketterer contended the Supreme Court resolved the issue in a 1976 case that decided the king's 1740 decree set the boundary in mid-harbor.

``Official New Hampshire maps place the boundary in the middle of the river,'' Ketterer said. ``The state of Maine should not be put to the expense of re-establishing this boundary.''