THE 113-FOOT-LONG ISLAND ROVER sits primed, ready for its final paint job, on Bucknam Road in Freeport. DARCIE MOORE / THE TIMES RECORD

THE 113-FOOT-LONG ISLAND ROVER sits primed, ready for its final paint job, on Bucknam Road in Freeport. DARCIE MOORE / THE TIMES RECORD

FREEPORT

The Island Rover Foundation owes the town of Freeport $36,331.

That was the ruling from Justice Thomas Warren last week, the latest in a longstanding legal battle between the town and the group that built the 80-ton, 113-foot topsail schooner on a landlocked parcel of land on Bucknam Road.

The steel vessel was constructed in a non-conforming residential zone, and neighbors want the ship gone. However, Warren’s decision notes that “significant practical problems remain.”

“These include formidable engineering difficulties, the expense associated with moving overhead power lines and disconnection of power, the need to obtain an over-limit road permit from the town (applied for once and denied with no appeal taken), the opposition of landowners at the proposed launching site, and the potential need for environmental permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the DEP and perhaps a shoreland zoning permit from the town,” he stated in his decision.

Last summer, Warren found the Island Rover Foundation violated a contempt order and was subject to a fine of $500 per day, as long as it remained in the nonconforming zone. The ruling also stated Freeport could take possession of the vessel if it was not moved.

It was supposed to be moved in August, and then in November 2017. It was slated to launch between Nov. 10-15, 2017, at the end of Shore Drive — pending permit approval.

After two lengthy meetings last fall, however, the Freeport Town Council denied an overweight moving permit needed to move the vessel from the property. In denying the permit, councilors expressed concern about whether certain criteria could be met — such as a $2 million insurance policy and permission from property owners whose land the vessel would pass over in its move.

“This is why the town doesn’t allow this use in a residential neighborhood,” Councilor Sarah Tracy said after the council’s second denial of the overweight moving permit. “It’s a nightmare and a mess, and feels like crazy town when thinking of moving this large vessel down a small residential street.”

The foundation’s attorney, Twain Barden, stressed that the Island Rover is not just a backyard project. It was built with surplus material, he said, to the highest standards.

“I think it’s important for folks to understand that both the Island Rover Foundation and Carter Becker are making active steps and have been making active steps to not just finish the vessel but move her to the water,” he said.

When the lawsuit came to a head last summer, the Island Rover was quickly finished and made ready for the water, certified by the American Bureau of Shipping; all of its welding was certified by the American Welding Society.

The town, in denying the overweight moving permit, Barden said, had a long list of requirements “that were almost impossible to meet.”

In his decision, Warren wrote: “In the court’s view, it is unrealistic to assume that Becker and the Island Rover Foundation have the ability to resolve these problems and launch the vessel.”

However, both owners of the boat — Becker and Harold Arndt — have every intention of getting the boat in the water, Barden argued Thursday, though he couldn’t make those plans public.

Not part of the initial filing, Becker is not named in Warren’s most recent order.

Asked if and how the Island Rover Foundation could afford to pay the town $36,000, Barden said it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to comment.

“I think one of the challenges that this order creates, and the prior order, was that it caused people who had a great deal of goodwill and interest in helping, to stop providing that goodwill and put themselves at arms distance from the project,” he said, “out of fear of some sort of retribution.”

Barden said Arndt and Becker know the project will proceed, and the hope is cooler heads will prevail. The vessel is to be a sailing school for children.

“I think once the cloud of this unpleasantness lifts and people again feel free to participate, it will be a source of great joy,” he said.

Becker’s attorney, Benjamin Leoni, said his client is working to find a solution. Becker is not part of the foundation but was paid for work he did on the Island Rover with ownership interest in the vessel. For the last couple years, Leoni said, “he’s really kind of the primary mover and shaker to try to get the boat removed from the property.”

“If the boat goes into the water, that kind of solves everybody’s problem — the town’s problem, the Island Rover Foundation’s problem,” he added. “That’s what he would like to do.”

Barden said that last week’s court order grants compensation of the town’s attorney fees for every expense dealt with in this matter, regardless of the purpose. He filed a motion July 3 asking the court to more carefully examine the attorney fees covered by the compensatory fine. The town will have to respond to the motion for more information by July 24.

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