Freeport gives Island Rover group 1 more chance

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FREEPORT — The town may offer the Island Rover Foundation one final chance to finish and move a partially constructed ship.

The Town Council on Tuesday asked Town Manager Peter Joseph to meet with the foundation and draft an agreement so the 113-foot metal schooner can be finished and moved off a property on Lower Flying Point Road.

Councilors are expected to vote on the agreement in December, which is the next time they’ll meet.

Councilors asked Joseph to include a few conditions, including the caveat that the issue can never come before the Town Council again if the agreement is approved. Councilors said if the date of the extension passes, the town will automatically sell the boat and the property it is on. The length of the extension will be discussed by Joseph and foundation officials when the agreement is drafted.

Another condition requested by the council is mandating that the schooner can’t be launched from Shore Drive. The foundation was planning to have a boat launch built in the residential area, which is a half mile from where the boat is being built. Building the launch would require extensive site work, including the removal of more than 30 trees.

The town took possession of the ship, which resident Harold Ardnt began building more than 20 years ago, on Sept. 9, after the foundation failed to move the vessel by a court-ordered date. The town and the foundation reached the agreement in Maine Superior Court two years ago.

The town has granted the foundation several extensions in the past, even though the project does not comply with zoning laws. The ship is being built in a residential zone, which was allowed until Ardnt put the project under the auspices of the nonprofit foundation in 2005.

The Island Rover Foundation on Oct. 4 asked for another one-year extension. After a lengthy discussion, councilors told foundation officials they wanted to see a concrete plan before they would consider an extension.

Foundation officials provided a plan to councilors before Tuesday’s meeting, but left out key information that was requested, such as bank statements and a detailed fundraising plan.

Willy Leathers, vice president of the foundation, handed councilors the foundation’s bank statement at the meeting, but many councilors said they wished they had seen it earlier so they could have reviewed it. 

“In order for me to feel comfortable, I need to understand the money is here,” Councilor Lee Arris said.

Leathers said the foundation has just over $2,600 in its bank account. He said the foundation plans to raise additional money.

According to the plan the foundation provided to councilors, it will take $14,000 to finish building the boat and it will cost an additional $74,000 to move it.

Carter Becker, of Falls Point Marine in Freeport, has said he will fund the move if no other funds are is available. Councilors on Oct. 4 asked for a notarized letter to that effect, but after receiving the letter Tuesday, said the language was too vague. Councilors also said they want a letter from Becker’s bank confirming that he has the funds.

When asked about his interest in the ship, Becker told councilors that he has 75 percent ownership of the schooner and Ardnt owns the other 25 percent. Becker said he purchased his share just before the town took possession of the ship; Leathers then told the Council the foundation never owned the ship.

Councilors and the town manager said they were surprised to hear that information, but that legally the town owns the ship because of the court order.

The $74,000 estimate for moving the vessel is based on the foundation’s plan to launch it from Shore Drive from a piece of undeveloped property owned by Becker. The foundation said the boat could possibly be launched from other locations, but they are farther away and it would cost more money.

Launching from Wolfe’s Neck Farm would cost more than $145,000 and launching from the L.L. Bean paddling school on Desert Road would cost over $185,000.

Councilors said they don’t want the ship launched on Shore Drive because residents in the neighborhood are strongly opposed to the move.

“I’m very concerned about the launch site,” Councilor Sarah Tracy said. “I believe the neighborhood opposition is strong enough that it compromises the viability of getting this done.”

Council Chairwoman Melanie Sachs said she doesn’t think the ship can be completed because of the lack of planning. She was the only councilor opposed to considering an extension.

“I won’t vote for an extension at this time,” she said. “I don’t believe this is a viable plan after 11 years.”

Councilor Scott Gleeson said he would consider an extension, but based on the foundation’s history, he’s not sure if the ship would be completed in the time allotted.

“Part of me feels that if we grant this extension it’s just another extension and this clearly has been going on for a long time,” he said.

Sachs said the council has already granted more than enough extensions for the foundation and that it’s time to stop.

“I feel that this council has tried very hard to support the dream and the vision,” she said. “What I’m not in support of is continuing down this same road.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

The architect of the Island Rover, Harold Ardnt, stands in front of the partially completed 113-foot schooner in Freeport in 2012.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.