FREEPORT — Harold Arndt’s dream will live on, at least for another few years.
Arndt’s 113-foot, two-masted schooner being built out of recycled materials off Lower Flying Point Road will have three more years to be completed after the Town Council on Tuesday night approved an agreement – with significant stipulations – to allow the foundation that oversees the project to continue working on the boat.
In 6-0 vote, with one abstention, the council extended the consent agreement that has allowed the Island Rover project to exist in violation of neighborhood zoning laws since 2005.
The council debated the length of the extension and added several requirements to be met, including quarterly reports to the town on progress, regular safety and environmental checks of the property, and a financial assurity package that will prevent taxpayers from being responsible for the cleanup if the project is not completed on time.
“Three years, I think we can live with; two years would have been setting us up to fail,” said Arndt, who is president of the Island Rover Foundation and started building the boat as personal project 20 years ago. “At least we got a decision, now I’ve just got to go do it.”
The council had originally planned to vote on the project in August, but waited while the project site was reviewed by the Department of Environmental Protection and the Fire Department. Both reviews determined the project was safe.
Construction of the boat, made of reused scrap and surplus materials, made significant progress in the early 2000s. But it hit a roadblock when the economy crashed and funding all but dried up.
Arndt originally set up a five-year consent agreement with the town in 2005, after he put the project under nonprofit ownership, which put him out of compliance with the zoning laws. He has since received two extensions from the council, with the current extension ending at the beginning of next year.
In order for the 75 percent complete boat to be able to move, Arndt said the hull needs to be welded, which would be a significant expense because it requires specialized professionals to complete the job. Up until now, the Island Rover has relied mostly on in-kind donations and volunteer labor.
Although the council’s decision is not legally binding for any future council, allowing the foundation to bring the issue up again, Chairman Jim Cassida said he wanted to “send a clear message” with their decision on the project.
Cassida outlined a plan for the project to make it “trailer ready,” not necessarily ready to sail, which he hopes will move the boat off the property as soon as possible.
The most significant piece of his plan includes an irrevocable letter of credit to assure no financial responsibility for the town’s taxpayers if the project is not completed in the agreed amount of time and must be removed from the property.
“Although we all want Harold to be able to complete this project … we have an obligation to enforce the code and make sure this project is in compliance,” Cassida said.
The amount of the letter of credit is unknown, pending an independent estimate, such as a bid, of what it would take to make the project movable, Cassida said.
Although more than 25 people attended the meeting to hear the decision on the Island Rover, and Cassida noted that the council received a significant amount of feedback from the community, he said the issue was one of judicial responsibility for the council and public sentiment should have no bearing on the decision.
Councilor Kate Arno was the most vocal critic of the project, citing neighbors’ concerns about safety and property values.
“I don’t see enough sufficient capacity in the organization to complete the project, whether we have the letter of credit or not,” Arno said, noting that 10 of the 13 people in the neighborhood she has talked to do not support an extension.
Arndt, who brought 43 neighbors’ signatures in support of the project, said the Island Rover still needs at least $150,000 to make it ready to sail.
But he remains optimistic that he will have the boat ready to move within three years.
“The building of the boat was a short-term event that turned into a long-term event,” Arndt said. “I want it done as much as anybody.”
The Island Rover, a 113-foot long, unfinished, steel schooner made of reclaimed materials, sits in a residential Freeport neighborhood in this 2008 photo.