FREEPORT – You might imagine a schooner, its sails full to bursting with the wind, slicing across Casco Bay.

That’s how Harold Arndt sees his schooner, though 20 years after he started building the Island Rover, it remains a rusting steel hulk rising from piles of scrap metal and other junk strewn across five wooded acres behind his home on Flying Point.

“I can imagine it,” Arndt said Friday, grinning at the prospect of setting sail. “I’ve been on enough boats.”

For now, Arndt is high and dry, and once again facing scrutiny from local and state officials for continuing to violate land-use rules in a residential area where neighbors seem divided on whether his boat-building operation is a problem.

Arndt, 69, has asked the Town Council to renew a 2004 consent agreement that has allowed him to keep building the 89-foot schooner from salvaged materials stockpiled in the woods off Lower Flying Point Road and Maquoit Drive, an area of modest and million-dollar waterfront homes.

Local ordinances ban commercial boat building and junkyards in residential zones. Renewed in 2010, the consent agreement runs out in January. Arndt is asking for five more years.

The council has scheduled a public hearing on the issue Sept. 4. In the meantime, inspectors from the solid and hazardous waste divisions of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection are expected to visit Arndt’s property on unpaved Bucknam Road and issue a report to the town.

“The question is whether he can complete the project in five years when he hasn’t been able to finish it in the time allowed so far,” said Town Manager Dale Olmstead.

Arndt said he was fine as long has he was just a guy building a boat in his backyard. He began to run afoul of town ordinances in 2000, when he incorporated the nonprofit Island Rover Foundation so he could raise money to help his cause.

Town officials got wind of his corporate status in 2004, Arndt said, when he sought permission to open a school on his property. He has given tours to students and interested people of all ages, and relies on assistance from volunteers to help him build the boat.

A Connecticut native, Arndt learned how to sail while working on a marine research vessel in the 1960s. He retired in 1995 from Bath Iron Works, where his job included recycling scrap and other waste from the ship-building process.

The schooner project grew from his frugal Yankee upbringing and fueled his broader understanding of the wasteful, consumer-driven society that followed World War II.

“It started out as a demonstration of how big and beautiful you could build something out of stuff people throw away,” Arndt said. “I’m trying to set an extreme example. I’m hoping to inspire other people to do what they can.”

Jane Danielson is one neighbor who says she appreciates Arndt’s efforts, especially since she can’t see the schooner or junk piles from her waterfront property.

“I don’t have any concerns about what he’s doing,” Danielson said. “He has a wonderful spirit and some important ideas and I wish him well.”

Arndt’s operation doesn’t bother Doug Piehl, either, though he lives off Bucknam Road and drives past the schooner and junk piles daily.

“I think it’s great that somebody’s doing something like this,” Piehl said. “I’m a contractor, so I know a lot of people who have lots of junk around their houses.”

Shireen Toutant, a Maquoit Drive resident, said she hopes the council won’t issue another extension.

“It bothers some of us, not knowing what’s back there,” Toutant said. “He’s a nice neighbor, but at the same time, it’s a concern.”

Steve Doran, whose property on Maquoit Drive borders Arndt’s, said he worries about what will happen to the unfinished schooner and piles of debris if something happens to Arndt.

“What if it doesn’t get finished?” Doran said. “It’s been more than enough time. As a taxpayer, I want to know who’s going to eat the cost of getting all that stuff out of there.”

Arndt said the foundation is responsible for the property, and its vice president, his son-in-law Jon Sweet of Bowdoinham, will oversee its continued operation.

Many people support the project, Arndt said, including 34 neighbors who have signed a petition he plans to submit to the council.

Arndt wouldn’t say how much the foundation has raised or spent on the two-masted schooner so far, though he says he needs $250,000 to $500,000 to finish it.

Inside the half-built boat, he explains exactly where the galley, the marine research lab, deluxe cabins and bunks would be added.

With the kind of money he’s seeking, Arndt figures he could hire the welding specialists he needs to meet Coast Guard boat-building standards and finish the schooner in two years. But he’s not counting on getting major donations anytime soon, so he’s seeking a five-year renewal.

A divorced father of four and grandfather of 11, Arndt admits that he’s a hoarder, a tinkerer and a dreamer, though he prefers the word “visionary.”

He denies that he’s running a junkyard, though his property is covered with several rusted trucks and trailers, stacks of pipes and steel bars, rolls of wire and fencing, piles of scrap wood and steel, and ramshackle sheds of all sizes filled with more stuff.

“I don’t disagree that it looks like junk,” Arndt said. “I disagree that it is junk. I can find a use for most of it.”

And he has an inventory list to prove it.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.