Removing unfinished boat could cost Freeport more than $100K

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FREEPORT — The town could end up spending more than $100,000 if the foundation that owns a partially built 113-foot schooner can’t come up with the money to finish or move the massive boat.

After being granted a three-year reprieve last September with significant stipulations, the Island Rover Foundation has failed to meet requirements to continue building the boat and could face enforcement action by the town.

The town had required Harold Arndt, president of the Island Rover Foundation, to meet several goals by the end of January to continue building the Island Rover on the foundation’s property off Flying Point Road.

And although some of the goals were met, the foundation failed to fulfill all of them by the deadline and is now no longer in compliance with zoning laws, Town Manager Peter Joseph told the Town Council Tuesday night.

Joesph said one of the key difficulties for the foundation has been obtaining a financial guarantee that ensures the town would not be responsible if the foundation isn’t able to raise enough money to complete construction after the three years is up and the boat has to be moved.

Other council requirements included quarterly reports to the town on progress and regular safety and environmental checks of the property.

Arndt has said previously the boat may need another $150,000 to complete.

Moving the boat, whether by Arndt’s choice or the town’s enforcement, would cost a substantial sum due to the sheer size of the boat, Arndt said.

The boat currently is on the foundation’s lot, which was previously owned by Arndt, in a residential neighborhood down a narrow dirt road, shielded by trees and brush.

Moving the boat would require considerable manpower, council Chairman Jim Hendricks said. Trees would also have to be removed, and utility lines would have to be moved.

The permit to launch the boat, if it were to be finished and seaworthy, could be as much $100,000, Arndt said.

And if the foundation doesn’t have the money to pay for it, the town may have to come up with the money to do it – or strip it for scrap metal, a task more expensive the finishing the boat, he said.

That cost would be in addition to the legal fees likely to accumulate if the town decides to try to move or scrap the boat, because the town would need a court order to take action.

The consent agreement between the parties is needed because the foundation, a nonprofit corporation, is not allowed to manufacture in the neighborhood, under town zoning laws. The agreement grants the foundation the ability to bypass those laws with the stipulation that the project be completed within a specific time frame.

Construction of the boat, made of reused scrap and surplus materials, made significant progress in the early 2000s. But after the financial collapse in 2008, funding for the project dried up.

The town originally established a five-year consent agreement in 2005, after Arndt put the project under nonprofit ownership, putting it out of compliance with the zoning laws. The foundation has since received two extensions from the council; the latest expired Jan. 26, with the boat about 75 percent complete.

Before the Island Rover can be moved, Arndt said previously, the hull must be welded – a significant expense because it requires specialized professionals to complete the job. Throughout its history, the Island Rover has relied mostly on in-kind donations and volunteer labor.

Arndt said it is possible to “dissolve the nonprofit in a heartbeat,” but the foundation owns the property and someone would have to buy the property.

Before the foundation, he said, “it was a crazy old guy building a boat in his backyard. As soon as it became a corporation, it became a non-conforming use. It’s a friggin’ piece of paper that caused the whole problem.”

Arndt, who didn’t want to comment on the potential council action, said he hopes to find a solution with the town.

“We need mutual cooperation,” he said. “If they want the problem to go away, they can’t be hard-nosed about it.”

The council will conduct a public site walk of Arndt’s property within the next two weeks and plans discuss the fate of the Island Rover at its next meeting Feb. 26.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.

Sidebar Elements

Harold Arndt in front of the Island Rover, his 113-foot-long, unfinished, steel schooner made of reclaimed materials in a residential Freeport neighborhood in July 2012.