Freeport gives ship group 2 weeks to produce action plan

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FREEPORT — Town Councilors on Tuesday said they need a concrete plan from the Island Rover Foundation before they will decide whether to give the organization another extension to finish and move a partially built ship.

Foundation officials on Tuesday asked the council for a one-year extension to finish the 113-foot metal schooner and move it off property on Lower Flying Point Road.

But councilors said they have concerns over the lack of a plan from the foundation.

There was also a new concern Tuesday night about the proposed launch site for the ship on Shore Road.

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 ownership of the nonprofit foundation in 2005.

Councilors on Tuesday decided they will consider the request for an extension at their Oct. 18 meeting. They said they would like to see a detailed plan from the Foundation by the mid-October meeting that would include bank statements, fundraising plans, and clean-up plans, among other items.

“Two years ago we asked for the same things we’re asking for tonight,” Council Chairwoman Melanie Sachs said. “There’s nothing different.”

Willy Leathers, vice president of the foundation, promised councilors that all the information would be provided by the next meeting, but councilors said they are worried that might not happen.

“I remember seeing the same exact promises for completion,” Councilor Scott Gleeson said. “That’s concerning.”

Sachs said if the foundation doesn’t follow through this time, she won’t voe for another extension.

She said she’s concerned about the lack of planning that’s been done so far, and about the lack of evidence that the foundation even tried to move the ship within the two-year period that just lapsed.

“There has been no evidence that this has even been explored, and that’s disappointing,” Sachs said.

Leathers said the foundation wants the same outcome as the council.

“We can all agree that it’s about time for the ship to leave the wood lot,” he said.

Leathers told councilors it will cost $74,000 to move the ship, with $60,000 earmarked for moving equipment and $14,000 to clean up the construction site.

When asked by councilors if the foundation has the money, Leathers said sponsors have agreed to make donations on the condition that the council grants the extension.

“There’s been an err of caution on investing in a project with an uncertain future,” he said.

Carter Becker, of Falls Point Marine in Freeport, has said he will fund the move if no other money is available, an agreement councilors said they want to see in writing and notarized.

Since the town took possession of the ship, work was halted due to liability concerns. Town Manager Peter Joseph said it would cost $5,000-$10,000 for insurance coverage at the site.

Once workers are allowed to continue working on the ship, Leathers said it will take only four weeks to complete. Two weeks are needed to finish welding, and two weeks will be needed for sandblasting and painting.

But Leathers said the one-year extension is needed because of the time it will take to build a boat launch and move the ship. Leathers said the foundation has the money to complete the work.

More than two dozen people spoke at the three-hour meeting. Some were in favor of the ship being completed and launched, while others said they want the ship removed by any means necessary, including scrapping it and having it removed in pieces.

Many talked about the proposed boat launch, which would be made of concrete and constructed a half mile from where the ship is being built. Many people were upset about the location, saying it will disturb the neighborhood. Building it will require extensive site work, including the removal of more than 30 trees.

“This launch site to me doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Councilor Bill Rixon said.

The council has played no role in plans for a boat launch. The location was chosen by the Island Rover Foundation, and approval would have to be granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Executive Director Tom Godfrey said the foundation doesn’t want to upset residents, but also needs a way to get the boat out to sea.

“We have no intention of making things worse,” he said. “Our hope is to get the boat off the property and into the water as quickly as possible.”

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

The creator 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.