Island Rover owner: Freeport is being a bully

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FREEPORT — The majority owner of the Island Rover schooner this week said the town is bullying him after the Town Council declined to issue an overlimit movement permit requested for the vessel.

The Island Rover Foundation submitted an application to the town for the permit on Oct. 6, with the intent of launching its namesake – the Island Rover – between Nov. 10 and 15. 

The town is required to issue overlimit permits for the movement of loads that are too tall, too heavy, too long or too wide to use roads owned or maintained by the town. The Island Rover – a 113-foot metal schooner – is considered over the limit in at least weight, width and height.

The foundation applied for three separate permits for three potential launch sites – on Burnett Road, at the L.L. Bean Paddling Center on Marietta Lane, and on Shore Drive, all of which require a different route from the ship’s position on Bucknam Road.

In a meeting on Oct. 17, the town asked for additional information regarding launch plans to be considered. In a special meeting Nov. 2, only a proposed route on Shore Road was discussed because the Town Council and foundation agreed it seemed most achievable. 

After a lengthy discussion, the council voted 4-2 not to approve the permit until all required information from the foundation was submitted. Councilor Lee Arris abstained. 

A week earlier, Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren ruled that the Island Rover Foundation had failed to purge itself of contempt following the court’s June 30 order. 

The town sued the foundation for allegedly violating a 2014 consent agreement that said the Island Rover must be moved off property on Lower Flying Point Road – in the town’s Medium Density Residential zone – where Harold Arndt began building the vessel more than 20 years ago. Building the vessel at this location was allowed until Arndt put the project under the auspices of the nonprofit foundation in 2005.

On Oct. 17, foundation attorney Twain Braden said Pittston-based contractor Jewett Builders would move the vessel. However, the foundation later named Falls Point Marine – owned by Carter Becker – as the insured party and said it would move the vessel with supervision from Jewett Builders. Last year, Becker claimed to have 75 percent ownership of the Island Rover

Although the foundation presented adequate proof of insurance to cover up to $400,000 in potential damage to roads from Falls Point, Town Manager Peter Joseph said the council was unclear about qualifications the movers had and whether Jewett’s or Falls Point’s experience mattered more when it came to moving a vessel of that size. 

The council had also asked the foundation for written permission from any landowners whose property may be crossed in transit. It received written documentation from the Shore Drive Neighbors Road Association that permission to cross private property and launch from the two sites had not been granted. The foundation claimed they have private property rights to access the launch site on Shore Drive, but the association’s attorney disputed this claim. 

“I own property on the right of way,” Becker said in an interview Nov. 7. “I have deeded rights, (and) the town has no interest in that dispute.”

Joseph said the town did not take a position on the issue.

“It’s not something the town can adjudicate,” he said. 

Becker said he was prepared to launch the vessel off of Shore Road on Nov. 13, but was forced to cancel plans without the overlimit moving permit. 

“I was refused transit to the water, I am now a land-locked vessel,” he added, saying the vessel is watertight and ready to be launched. 

The Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers scheduled a site walk on Monday, Oct. 30, with the intent of getting written documentation to the town regarding whether environmental permits would be required for the launch of the vessel. But the tour was postponed because of last week’s wind and rain storm, and will be rescheduled. 

“They were working towards (written documentation), but it just didn’t happen due to circumstances out of anyone’s control,” Joseph said.

Town Engineer Adam Bliss was tasked with assessing potential damage to roads in the three potential routes. In an Oct. 26 letter to the council, Bliss said transporting the vessel should have minimal to no impact on town roads. 

Tom Brownwell of Brownwell Systems – a boat storage facility in Mattapoisett, Massachusettswas – was contacted as a potential “expert” to review the move. He told Joseph he did not think he was the right person to provide the review, but said he is familiar with the site and overall and thinks the move is plausible.

But he had concerns, mostly around the intertidal portion of the move because of load-carrying capacity and the intertidal surface near the launch point, which transitions from gravel and hard sand to mud flats at the low-tide mark. 

The council encouraged the foundation to reapply for the moving permits when all the requested information has been compiled. 

Becker said he feels the council is asking much more of the foundation than they would for any other overlimit moving permit. 

“We answer every request (the council) has and then they raise the bar every time,” Becker said. “They send us away with a new punch list.”

“It is discrimination,” he added. “I’m being bullied.” 

Joseph said the Island Rover is a special case, unique because of its size and because there is a large number of residents who are concerned about public safety because the vessel would block both lanes of Shore Road while in transit.

Joseph added that in the past two meetings in which the overlimit permits have been discussed, the council has been consistent in its requests of the foundation. 

Because the foundation will not be able to reach its launch deadline of Nov. 15, the town is considering exercising its right to claim $500 a day in fines for each day the vessel remains in the town’s MDR zone – fines that have been accrued since August’s contempt finding. 

Becker said he does not owe anything because the vessel is being constructed in a conforming location. 

“I am legal where I am now; I have always been legal,” he said. “The town wants me to move the ship, but won’t let me. … Make up your mind.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

The Freeport Town Council on Nov. 2 rejected a request for an overlimit permit to move the 113-foot Island Rover schooner. Owner Carter Becker said he had planned to launch the vessel Nov. 13. 

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