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August 10, 2012

Portland lobster company evicted from wharf site

But the owner says he's hoping a bankruptcy filing will allow him to reopen at the same location.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The owner of Three Sons Lobster and Fish on Commercial Street was evicted Thursday, but he's hoping a last-minute bankruptcy filing will allow him to reopen at the same location.

click image to enlarge

Red "danger" tape is wrapped around the entrance to Three Sons Lobster and Fish on Commercial Street today.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Pier owner Great Maine Wharf LLC sent out eviction notices to Three Sons and several other businesses late last October after an engineer found a broken piling that made the pier unsafe. Three Sons owner Stuart Norton filed a legal challenge, and the two sides agreed to delay Three Sons' eviction until July 31.

But Norton said he hasn't been able to find a new location. On Monday, he received 48 hours notice of eviction, and Thursday morning, police and representatives of Great Maine Wharf arrived at the door.

"They basically swarmed in and told everyone they had five minutes to leave," Norton said. "They've taken my signs down. The lobsters will die ... I'm going to take a loss here."

Norton said he thought he would be protected from eviction because, on the advice of his attorneys, he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this week. Norton claims federal bankruptcy laws protect him from eviction.

But the attorney representing Great Maine Wharf, which is owned by Eric Cianchette, says that's not the case.

Attorney Dave Perkins said the space is leased to Three Sons LLC, not Norton personally -- and Norton filed for bankruptcy protection for himself, not his business.

"He's not the tenant," Perkins said of Norton. "We're not evicting him -- we're evicting the company. The bankruptcy is irrelevant."

Norton maintains that Three Sons and himself are "one and the same" and that his name also appears on the lease.

The two sides will meet in court Friday for an emergency hearing to allow the bankruptcy judge to determine whether he can be evicted.

Perkins said Cianchette has tried to work with Norton, whom he blames for causing the damage to the pier by overloading it with heavy lobster tanks. But Norton has simply refused to leave the property that he is no longer entitled to occupy, Perkins said.

"We're trying to be as patient as possible and follow the law," he said.

Mayor Michael Brennan said the city has been working with Norton to find a new location for his business.

Brennan said city staff contacted Cianchette to see if there was any role the city could play to help resolve the situation. "There doesn't appear to be at this point," Brennan said.

Brennan said it's unfortunate that the situation has reached this point.

"We're obviously not happy with what has happened," he said. "Everyone is concerned there appears to be safety issues and the business won't be able to continue."

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings

 

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