The Bremen Board of Appeals voted to overturn the harbor master’s decision to deny issuing a mooring permit for the Columbia.
In a 5-2 vote on Dec. 30, 2015 the appeals board voted to uphold an appeal filed by Columbia owner Doug Wood. Wood is seeking a mooring permit to anchor his boat in Greenland Cove.
Following the vote Bremen town attorney Jonathan Hull said the next step in the process entails the harbor master, with the advice of the harbor committee, and potential guidance from the board of appeals, making another determination on whether or not to issue Wood a mooring permit for the 90-foot fishing vessel.
“We don’t have a final decision yet,” Hull said.
Wood, a Bremen resident, towed the Columbia to Greenland Cove, where it is currently moored, from Bristol on Nov. 9, 2015 after the boat was deemed abandoned in Pemaquid Harbor in early 2014.
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry declared the vessel abandoned under state statute and gave Wood permission to move the vessel in early November 2015, facilitating its arrival in Bremen where it prompted residents to express concerns to the harbor master and harbor committee.
Prior to the vote, the board heard sworn testimony from Wood, Bremen Harbor Master Melanee Osier-Gilbert, and members of the public.
Wood said he was concerned with the amount of confusion surrounding the issue culminating with him receiving 48 hours to beef up the mooring and 15 days to show proof of ownership.
“I recognized the fact that I’m not going to get a barge block drilled and pinned in 48 hours. So I filed the appeal because I had been presented with these criminal charges that could be brought against me,” Wood said.
During her testimony Gilbert explained her decision to deny Wood’s application for a mooring permit was based on consultations with a number of harbor masters throughout coastal Maine.
She said the harbor masters in Portland, Rockland and Boothbay Harbor recommended against keeping a vessel of that size in Greenland Cove.
“I talked to three different harbor masters where you would normally find this type of boat. It’s a 90-foot eastern rig, it’s big, it’s heavy and Portland doesn’t even allow boats that large on moorings,” Gilbert said.
She said a number of phone calls and emails she and other members of the harbor committee received in regards to the boat’s location in Greenland Cove and potential safety hazards related to such a large boat spurred the harbor committee to examine the matter.
Harold Schramm, an appeals board member who voted to overturn the harbor master’s decision said it was not an easy decision to make.
“It was a very difficult choice because you don’t want to disagree with the harbor master’s expertise, but we felt the basis of the conclusion was more speculative than factual,” Schramm said.
Schramm also said he felt the hearing provided both sides with an opportunity to have their voices heard.
“I think it was a good hearing. Both sides were able to aire their opinions,” Schramm said.
Appeals Board member David West who voted against overturning the harbor master’s decision said he took exception to Wood not contacting the town’s harbor master prior to moving the boat to Greenland Cove.
“The point is he didn’t go to the harbor master in the beginning and say listen I’m going to bring this boat in, what do I need to get this thing done,” David West said
The Dec. 30, 2015 hearing followed a series of meetings on the issue held by the town’s harbor committee and the Bremen Board of Selectmen.
In late November 2015, an initial application for a mooring permit filed by Wood was denied because he did not yet have ownership over the vessel.
On Dec. 11, 2015, Wood turned in a completed mooring application to the Bremen Town Center after he received a letter containing the boat’s bill of sale from the fishing vessel’s last documented owner, Alan Curtis of New Bedford, Mass.
Wood’s acquisition of the boat’s bill of sale appears to end a lapse in documented ownership of the vessel dating back to 2011.
Though ownership of the vessel provides Wood with an opportunity to file a completed mooring application it does not remove him from liability.
Hull said Woods still faces alleged violations of state statute, bringing the abandoned vessel to Bremen, and the town’s harbor ordinance, dropping a mooring without a permit.
Hull said regardless of the board of appeals decision regarding the harbor master’s ruling, the question of violations of the town’s harbor ordinance will be handled by the selectmen.
“The violations that are in the notice of violations are historical events, they happened. Regardless of your (board of appeals) decision the selectmen can proceed or not proceed to enforce those. Secondly, there are civil penalties for violating the ordinance as well and again the selectmen have the authority to proceed regardless of your decision,” Hull said.