FREEPORT — The long saga of the Island Rover – an 89-foot boat being built from scrap metal in a neighborhood in Freeport – will likely last even longer after Freeport Town Council voted to deny a permit allowing the vessel to be moved across public roads to a launching site.

After over four hours of deliberation, wrangling with over a half-dozen amendments, and extensive skepticism from some members, council ultimately voted 5 – 1 – 1 to deny the permit. One councilor, Leland Arris, abstained from the vote after the numerous twists and turns of the evening led him to be unsure of the vote’s purpose.

Island Rover has been under construction for over two decades, and the application to gain an overland permit is the latest in a long line of complicated efforts and competing interests associated with the project.

Harold Arndt, founder of the Island Rover Foundation, has been taken to court multiple times due to zoning violations caused by the construction of the vessel in a residential neighborhood branching off Lower Flying Point Road.

Kenneth Koehler, seen with the Island Rover in 2016, is treasurer of the foundation named for the project.

The latest development in ownership occurred last year, when Freeport tried to take possession of it after the Island Rover Foundation failed to move it by a court-ordered date. Despite the court order, complications still arose over ownership when Carter Becker, owner of Falls Point Marine in Freeport, claimed he owned a 75 percent stake in the boat. Further attempts by the town to possess the vessel may lead to yet more court wrangling.

As recently as Oct. 10, the court ruled yet again, stating that the Island Rover Foundation had failed to purge itself of contempt following a June 30 court order to move the boat out of the town’s Medium Density Residential zone, where construction began, to a zone that would allow continued work. The town then provided the foundation multiple locations where it would be allowed to build.

Instead of moving to one of those locations, the boat only traveled around 100 feet to another location in the same residential zone.

On Oct. 6, the foundation applied to receive an over-limit movement permit from the town to launch the boat from a ramp on Shore Drive, a private road located on the opposite side of the peninsula that the Island Rover is being built on. To get there, the nearly 80-ton vessel – which is over weight, height, and width limits for normal transport – will have to negotiate several public roads, as well as some tight turns. Along the way, branches may need to be cut, and at least one tree will need to be removed.

The use of Shore Drive has raised yet more complications, however. Shore Drive Road Association, a group of residents that possess control over the private road, have stated they do not grant permission to the Island Rover Foundation to use the road, and residents directly adjacent to the launch site are opposed to its use.

Lisa Broccoli has lived in the neighborhood on Shore Drive for a year, and only recently got acquainted with the long-running controversy. She said she opposes moving the boat because the road – and ramp – are both too narrow. She added that she – and other neighbors – are worried the boat would get stuck due to shallow water.

“The water is not very deep right there,” she said. “If it gets stuck, then we’d have this 80-ton thing sitting there.”

However, Becker – the man claiming majority ownership of the boat – said he has a deeded right to use the road.

The issue of whether or not Becker has the right to use the road to launch the boat is something councilors expressed concern about, but they also agreed that the council wasn’t the body to decide things over ownership.

From the very start of the meeting, councilor Melanie Sachs expressed “resounding” opposition to the launch proposal, given the foundation’s failure to meet any of the previous court-mandated movements of the boat to a complying location.

She expressed frustration over the process, as the foundation still had not either acquired or demonstrated that there is no need for further permitting from organizations like the Maine Department of Environmental Protection or the Army Corps of engineers. The Army Corps had been scheduled to do a site walk on Oct. 30, but due to the historic storm it was understandably canceled.

Sachs said while she understood the cancellation was part of the reason the foundation didn’t have permits or proof they didn’t need them, the town had been requesting information since July.

“The choice of the applicant not to do it until the last minute is not the purview of this council,” said Sachs.

In addition, she expressed concerns over the people who have been chosen to perform the move itself. The applicant initially stated that Jewett Builders out of Pittston would perform the move. However, at the Nov. 2 meeting, owners said that just one employee of that company would supervise the move while the move itself would be performed by Falls Point Marine employees using rented equipment.

Due to Sachs’ concerns, council attempted to place seven different amendments on the order to grant a permit. Four amendments were eventually placed: Proof of adequate insurance in case the boat falls or is stuck in the intertidal zone; proof no permits from DEP or Army Corps are required and/or acquisition of required permits; proof that a launch in the intertidal zone is viable from the opinion of an expert engineer, and evidence of a resolution of the landowner dispute between Becker and the owners of Shore Drive.

Three amendments failed: A detailed public safety plan, reasonably detailed plans to notify landowners, and evidence that the supervisory employee assigned by Jewett Builders has comparable experience in the view of town staff.

The complicated back and forth over the many amendments as the meeting dragged into its third hour led Council Chair Sarah Tracy to express frustration over the whole saga.

“This is why the town doesn’t allow this kind of use in its neighborhoods. This is why,” she said. “This is a nightmare. This is a mess. Bringing this thing of this size through a residential neighborhood, it feels like crazy town.”

She added that the council had asked for a detailed launch plan in October 2016, and now over a year later still had several holes in the plan presented to them.
“It seems like every single time the council tries to address this issue in good faith, it changes. And we’ve spent so much time, and so much town resources, on this issue,” she said. “We’ve been trying to solve this puzzle that was not of our own making.”

Following the denial of the permit, council consulted with Wendy Paradis, the town’s attorney. She gave a list of remedies available to the town if the foundation fails to move the Island Rover.

Chief among those were the application of court-ordered fines, which would be $500 a day starting from Aug. 22, 2017. As of the meeting, that would total $36,000.
Council agreed to begin pursuing the fines, as an added incentive to move the boat.

“I do want to do something that incentivizes both Island Rover and Mr. Becker to keep moving this issue forward so it’s not languishing and sitting where it has been for over a decade,” said Tracy.

If the Island Rover Foundation wants to move the vessel, they’ll have to reapply to get permits once more. For now, it is sitting on Bucknam Road, accruing additional fines for every day it’s there.

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