FREEPORT — New controversy is brewing over the Island Rover, an 89-foot schooner that’s being built from scrap metal on a wooded lot in the middle of a residential neighborhood on Flying Point Neck.

A dispute over who now owns the boat could scuttle negotiations designed to get the project completed. Complicating things further, neighbors are fiercely opposed to the proposed launch, which includes building a private boat ramp into a shallow cove off Shore Drive.

The Island Rover has been under construction for more than 20 years. Its builder, Harold Arndt, and the nonprofit Island Rover Foundation have clashed repeatedly with Freeport officials over zoning violations. In September, the town claimed ownership of the vessel and the Maquoit Drive land it sits on after the foundation missed a court-ordered deadline to remove the ship and clean up the property.

Foundation members insist that construction is nearly finished, and the town is considering an agreement that would extend the deadline for completing and moving it. If launched, the ship would host an education program.

But now a disagreement has emerged over who owns the boat. The town insists it automatically took ownership of the boat and the land after the foundation missed the September deadline.

But at a Town Council meeting on Oct. 18, Carter Becker, owner of Falls Point Marine in Freeport, said Arndt transferred 75 percent ownership of the boat to him about a month before, according to meeting minutes. Becker is backing the cost of finishing the vessel and launching it.


“No, the town doesn’t own it, never has, never will,” Becker said in a telephone interview.

The town must resolve any ownership dispute before it can negotiate a deadline extension with the foundation.

“If Carter Becker is telling you he owns 75 percent of the boat, and the town does not own it, there is a dispute,” said Town Council Chairwoman Sarah Tracy.

Becker’s plan for launching the Island Rover is also controversial – he hopes to build a boat ramp off property he owns on Shore Drive.

The foundation estimates it will cost $74,000 to move the ship by truck to the proposed Shore Drive boat launch and $8,000 more to pay to move utility lines out of the way temporarily.

The next closest launch option, the L.L. Bean paddling school three miles away, would cost $185,350 in transportation costs plus $40,000 to move utility lines, according to an October report to the Town Council.


Becker has applied to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for permission to build a 20-foot-wide ramp about 150 feet long that would extend into mudflats and saltmarsh.

After launching the Island Rover, Becker intends to reduce the ramp’s width to 12 feet and use it to haul, launch and store a small personal fleet of traditional small boats, according to the application.

Mike Mullen, DEP Land Division director, said he could not recall another application for a personal boat launch on the coast.

Shorefront owners typically opt for piers, and applications for private boat launches on freshwater lakes have been rejected because there are public alternatives, he said.

Becker’s proposal includes a large amount of wetland fill and disturbance, he said.

“It is fairly rare for applications for a private boat ramp anyway, both inland and on the coast,” he added.


“In that respect it is fairly unusual, the size and impact is fairly unusual for the coast.”

Becker, in an interview, said the idea for a ramp started with the Island Rover, but he needs it for his antique boats. He dismissed allegations by neighbors that a permanent ramp would be used for his business, which builds commercial and residential docks.

“Absolutely not, how many times do I have to tell the neighbors, this is not a commercial situation, this is a private launching ramp,” Becker said.

Cathryn Bigley, who lives near the site, said nearby residents are unanimously opposed to the boat ramp. The cove is too shallow, has sensitive wading bird and waterfowl habitat, is an important harvesting area for softshell clams, and the shoreline is at risk of erosion, she said.

“The site is not a logical place to build a boat launch. There are only a few feet of water at high tide,” Bigley said. “The plan is poorly put together and it’s obvious this site is no place for a commercial scale boat launch,” she added.

Three of the seven town councilors, including Tracy, have said they will vote against any deadline extension agreement with the foundation that includes building a ramp on Shore Drive. A fourth councilor, Vice-Chairwoman Melanie Sachs, has said she is against any deadline extension.


Last month, the council told Town Manager Peter Joseph to start negotiating an agreement with the foundation. In an email, Joseph said he had met with the group once and councilors were likely to discuss the issue at Dec. 6 meeting.

Ken Koehler, the foundation’s treasurer, said in an email that the group is looking forward to negotiating an agreement, and hosted a recent cleanup of the property.

“While the welding has ended for this year, the foundation is looking forward to planning and fundraising this winter,” Koehler said.


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