Launch sought for massive boat worries Freeport neighbors

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FREEPORT — Lower Flying Point residents are taking action to prevent a boat ramp from being built off Shore Drive.

Carter Becker said he applied on Oct. 30 to the Department of Environmental Protection for a permit to build the ramp at 0 Shore Drive. It would be 20 feet wide to accommodate the Island Rover, the 113-foot long vessel that has been under construction a short distance from Becker’s property for more than 20 years.

The launch would be a “one-time event,” and the size of the ramp then would be reduced to 12 feet.

Becker claims he owns 75 percent of the Island Rover, but the town disagrees.

The Town Council was advised on Sept. 20 that boat-builder Harold Arndt did not meet a Superior Court-approved deadline to launch the boat by Sept. 9. The consent agreement gives the town the ability to automatically take title to the boat, which it has done.

Town Manager Peter Joseph is negotiating with the Island Rover Foundation on what would be a fifth deadline agreement to complete and move the 94-ton vessel, made of recycled steel and intended for educational use, from Bucknam Road.

Joseph said last week that he hopes to report to the council at its next meeting on Dec. 6 regarding progress made toward a new agreement, or a draft agreement.

“We’re still talking,” Joseph said.

Becker, meanwhile, acknowledges in his application that sections of marsh would be impacted temporarily, then preserved and returned to its natural state.

But neighbors, led by Catheryn Bigley and Nancy Meagher, have hired an environmental consultant to fight Becker’s permit application.

Last month, Bigley and Meagher also submitted a petition containing 81 signatures to the town expressing the neighborhood opposition to Becker’s plan.

“One-hundred percent of abutters, Shore Drive residents and all of the cove residents oppose this,” Bigley said. “There are environmental, traffic and public safety concerns.”

Sandy Allen, president and road commissioner of the Shore Drive Neighbors Road Association, said in an email that the Association is strongly opposed to Becker’s proposal. The association is a statutory road association comprised of 10 parcels and 14 property owners on the privately maintained gravel section toward the end of Shore Drive.

Bigley said that 0 Shore Drive is not a logical place to build a boat launch.  There is only a few feet of water at high tide, she said.

“The plan is poorly put together, and it’s obvious this site is no place for a commercial-scale boat launch,” she said. “The cove is mapped as Tidal Waterfowl and Wading Bird Habitat, which is classified as a Significant Wildlife Habitat by DEP. Portions of the shoreline that include Mr. Becker’s property as well as neighboring properties are mapped as Unstable Coastal Bluffs by the Maine Geological Survey.”

Bigley said Becker’s permit application is tied to Island Rover, and he refers to the boat 15 times in his application, despite the fact that the town says there is no agreement at this time.

“We are prepared to fight this at every level,” she said.

Mike Mullen, director of the land division of the Bureau of Land Resources with the Department of Environmental Protection, said permits for private boat launches are rare.

“There are alternatives to a private launch,” Mullen said. “There are public launches. We do some permits at commercial marinas.”

Becker owns Falls Point Marine on South Freeport Road, which specialize in docks for residential and commercial applications along the coast.

He said there is a “similar” structure to the launch described in his DEP application elsewhere on Shore Drive.

“We’re not asking for anything that’s not there,” he said. “We’re not taking down a cliff to build this ramp.”

Becker said he assumed partial ownership of Island Rover from Arndt. He added that the Island Rover Foundation is the “funding arm” of the boat.

“I’ve been working on the boat for two years, welding it,” Becker said. “That’s been my payment.”

Becker said he has a deed to Island Rover, but the town has never asked him to produce the document.

“You’re the first person to call me and ask that question,” he said when contacted by telephone. “If you’re not asked, you’re not going to get it.”

He is challenging the town’s claim that it owns Island Rover.

“The council doesn’t want to hear the issues,” Becker said. “They just want to talk to their ‘TV land’ people. They’re politicians. It’s an abuse of power. I just want to be left alone to get the boat out of here.”

Sarah Tracy, the newly elected Town Council chairwoman, said the council has not made a formal request for the deed Becker claims to possess.

“It’s not relative to the consent decree,” Tracy said.

Environmental consultant Tim Forrester said he is in contact with the DEP on the issue, on behalf of the neighbors opposed to Becker’s quest to built the boat launch.

“I’ve been hired to review Becker’s application and to find out what’s wrong with it and to provide all that information to all the agencies,” Forrester said. “I want to make sure they know what’s right. From my perspective, the state doesn’t give launch ramps to individuals, period.”

Bigley emphasized that Becker’s DEP application to launch the Island Rover is invalid, because the vessel is town property. Forrester said Becker is trying to get around that by tying in the launch of the Island Rover, which is a commercial enterprise.

“He’s playing both sides of the coin,” Forrester said. “Island Rover is his only means potentially to get that permit. Then he wants to keep it for his own personal use.”

Joseph said Becker’s quest for a boat launch permit concerns the town only insofar that the application involves Island Rover.

“There’s a very fine line, and I’m not sure at this point what it is,” Joseph said. “Becker’s application has nothing to do with his business. It’s private use.”

Joseph added that the town also has to grant permits for such a launch to be built. A building permit is needed, and another involves flood plain considerations, he said.

Carter Becker has applied to the Department of Environmental Protection for a permit to build a boat launch on his Shore Drive land in Freeport.

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