RAYMOND – The Black Ghost Cafe, designed and approved last summer as a dock-accessible floating snack shack located in the water off Raymond Beach, has likely served its last lobster roll.

Due to friction between the town and the cafe?’s owner over what town leaders say are violations of Raymond’s shoreland zoning requirements, the Black Ghost made an ugly exit from the ice last Friday and will probably not return this summer.

The departure puts owner Jeff Pomeroy out of business after only one summer – and a heavy initial investment. And, possibly to recoup some of that loss, Pomeroy had the Ghost up for sale at Sunset Variety earlier this week.

Pomeroy’s departure also leaves the town without someone to clean the beach, which was closed in 2010 due to high E. coli bacteria levels, prompting officials to sign a contract with Pomeroy to maintain the area.

The heart of the Black Ghost debate is whether the cafe? is a boat or a structure. Once a leak in the boat meant it could no longer float on its own, local and state regulations regard it is a structure that must be pulled from the water in the winter.

But Pomeroy, of Egypt Road in Raymond, said he feels betrayed by the town, which he considered a partner in the Black Ghost endeavor that would extend him some leeway in the matter by allowing him to keep the Black Ghost in the water until the ice melted and he could safely haul it out.

Pomeroy, a carpenter by trade, isn’t happy since he sank $40,000 into building the Black Ghost and doesn’t want to sink even more money into a public-private partnership that he says has soured.

“The town of Raymond came after me pretty hard,” Pomeroy said while trying to remove the structure last week. “The first letter I got from the code enforcer was saying, you are now considered a structure and if you don’t have your structure out of the water by Dec. 1 you are not compliant so we’re charging you $100 a day.

“Now, the town of Raymond keeps saying they’re in partnership with me on this whole thing and all of a sudden they’re sending me a notice saying I’m being charged $100 a day? Now, if my partner said that to me, I would be very upset, which I am.”

According to the town, Pomeroy could be charged $100 for every day the cafe? was in the water as a structure, plus legal fees. After he spent five days and about $1,000 removing the Black Ghost last week, Pomeroy is stunned the town would charge him what could total more than $7,000, not including legal fees, which could be costly as well.

Town officials, however, say that they were forced to follow the letter of the law in making Pomeroy remove the Black Ghost, and Joe Bruno, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said last week he is hesitant to charge Pomeroy the full amount.

“We can’t allow him to break the law or break our ordinances to satisfy him,” Bruno said. “We gave him a lot of leeway. We tried to work with him. And there’s probably still more leeway that we’re going to give him because I don’t want to punish him and kick him while he’s down.

“But we need to at least recover some costs we have in the project, including legal fees for all the contracts. We also used town equipment to help him get that structure out of the water. I don’t know if we’re going to charge him for that. We’re just happy it’s out so he’s not in violation of [state] rules.”

According to Mike Morse, assistant shoreland zoning coordinator for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife issued Pomeroy a boat sticker last summer. But since then, Morse said, the boat has turned into a structure, since it couldn’t float, which happened almost immediately upon it entering Jordan Bay last summer.

Pomeroy said he floated the cafe? over to its resting spot and twice had to move it, “so it floated. It may have been ugly, but it floated,” he said. But he had to support it with blocks after one pontoon leaked and settled onto the shallow lake bottom.

“DEP advised the town of Raymond that based on what was actually there on the ground, it was a structure and not a watercraft and therefore needed to be treated as a structure,” Morse said.

Town officials consulted with Morse before issuing letters last fall alerting Pomeroy to the violation and that he had to remove it by Dec. 1. If the boat hadn’t suffered any leaks, the state would have been fine with allowing it to stay in the water through the winter. Boats are allowed under state law to remain in the water all year long, although most boat owners remove their vessels due to potential ice damage. (Despite DEP rules, the boat may have had to come out anyway since it had a temporary use as a restaurant, which according to state law must be removed Dec. 1. Pomeroy however, could have sought a further license allowing it to stay in.)

“The DEP wasn’t saying we didn’t like the idea of somebody doing this as a business. He had a business concept, it was supposed to be a watercraft, and it didn’t end up being a watercraft,” Morse said. “If he goes back and it legitimately is a watercraft that he sells food off of, so be it, that’s fine. We’re OK with that.”

Raymond’s code enforcement officer, Chris Hanson, who is battling other shoreland zoning violations in the town, said he must enforce the law equitably.

“We have to treat everyone consistently. And whether someone’s in violation, I’m consistent – whether they’re a partner with the town or whether they’re just the general public,” Hanson said. “Particularly with the DEP knowing it was in the water and it was a violation, there’s some pressure from the state to do what a code officer is supposed to do and that’s writing a notice of violation and stop violations.”

Selectman Mike Reynolds, who was an early proponent of the partnership, is saddened by the fizzle. But Reynolds is unwilling to bend, especially with other shoreland zoning violations in the works.

“I see it as our hands are tied. We can’t treat Jeff any differently than we would treat any property owner in Raymond,” Reynolds said. “And, I think, the hard part here is he had some things change in regard to the structure of the restaurant; the pontoon failed. So it made it much more difficult to get it out of the water than it did to get it in the water.”

Reynolds said the town wouldn’t have bent as much as it did had Pomeroy not come to the town in the fall and said he was having trouble extracting the Black Ghost from the water. Reynolds said the selectmen approved a 25-day grace period, until Dec. 25, to give him some extra time.

“And that’s what you would want any property owner to do,” Reynolds said. “If they realized they were about to be in violation but they were working at it and they just needed a little more time, that’s totally different than a violator who does it and tries to hide it. So I felt totally comfortable giving him the extra time because he came to ask for it. But once that expired, I feel it’s hard. It doesn’t matter if he was a partner with us or not, I feel my hands are tied as to the violation.”

While Pomeroy could still change his mind and seek a second season at the beach, the violation has nullified a five-year contract he negotiated with the town. Reynolds said the selectmen would have to start from scratch with whichever party may want to consider a similar enterprise.

Bruno is open to a smaller operation.

“We’d be interested in someone maintaining the beach,” Bruno said. “A simple hot dog cart would probably have solved a lot of [Pomeroy’s] issues and would have been a lot less expensive than to do what he tried to do.

“But we’re open to anything. We want to keep that beach open, and keep it clean. The comments we got over the season was it was the cleanest they’ve ever seen it. So Jeff did a good job in that respect. His business model didn’t work.”

Jeff Pomeroy, owner of the Black Ghost Café, spent five days
last week attempting to extract the floating café from the ice off
Raymond Beach. After debuting the café last summer, Pomeroy likely
won’t reopen this year, citing conflict with town regulators.
(Staff photo by John Balentine)

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