The owner of a 65-ton vessel at the bottom of Wiscasset Harbor must perform 100 hours of community service for a civil violation of littering.
Christopher G. Morrison, 52, of Wiscasset, owns the 66-foot vessel, which sank in January 2018. He must perform the community service with the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
Morrison admitted to the violation June 3. He learned of the penalty during a hearing at the Lincoln County Courthouse in Wiscasset on Friday, Aug. 10. A $500 fine for the violation was suspended.
A local company says the cost to raise the boat would range from $80,000-$200,000. It is not clear who might pay, and no plan to remove the boat has emerged.
Morrison’s attorney, David Paris, said the boat sank during a blizzard Jan. 4, 2018. Morrison said otherwise.
“From my understanding, it did not sink in the storm, which is what most people seem to think. The fact is, on Jan. 4, we had what they call a bomb cyclone, a fairly bad blizzard, but the boat sank the evening before – it was a calm and quiet night,” Morrison said.
Later in the hearing, Morrison said he did not know the boat was not seaworthy. He had checked it only a few days earlier. He visited the boat on the harbor about once a week.
His plans were to restore the vessel.
When Morrison did not remove the sunken boat, the Maine Marine Patrol summonsed him for littering July 31, 2018.
District Attorney Natasha Irving, who prosecuted the violation, argued that Morrison should pay restitution to whatever entity might eventually pay for removal of the boat, in addition to a fine of $500. She also asked for the 100 hours of community service.
“The practicality here is that somebody has to remove this boat, and who should be paying restitution to that somebody? This is going to be the taxpayers of Wiscasset that are going to have to pay for the removal of this boat,” Irving said.
“I believe if Mr. Morrison decided that he wanted to right this with the town that he could make a substantially higher salary every year and be able to pay this back. Maybe not within the next one or two years, but certainly within the next 10 years,” Irving said.
Paris argued that Morrison should only need to pay a fine of $500 and perform 100 hours of community service based on his financial means.
“This was not an intentional act; this was not a malicious act. Mr. Morrison has never been in this kind of situation, to the best of my knowledge,” Paris said, and he has no history of either civil or criminal violations.
Superior Court Justice Daniel Billings handed down the penalty.
“I found his testimony in regards to his financial circumstances to be credible, supported by other evidence,” Billings said. He said he didn’t think a $500 fine “would be just.”
Morrison has said he does not have boat insurance, which is not mandatory in Maine. The vessel had previously been insured, but not in 2018.
“I brought the boat across the Atlantic and the insurance company wouldn’t insure me for the Atlantic crossing,” Morrison said. He bought the boat in England.
Morrison testified at the hearing and answered questions about his finances.
His bills and expenses, as well as current bank statements and statements from early 2018, were reviewed when he was on the stand.
Morrison is a farmer and does some plowing in the winter months. He has no other form of income.
“For 2018, I would have made approximately $3,000-$4,000 over the year,” he said.
Paris asked if Morrison could financially contribute to the retrieval of the boat.
“At this time, you see what’s in my bank,” Morrison said.
When asked by Irving, Morrison said he does not see opportunities to make more money in farming.
Before Morrison took the stand, Irving called Bruce White, an owner of Sea Tow Portland/Midcoast, as a witness.
White fielded questions from Irving and Paris about an estimate prepared for Morrison in January 2018 to raise the vessel and the cost to remove it now.
Morrison asked Sea Tow for an estimate after the Wiscasset harbor master gave him the company’s contact information. White then spoke with DMR about removing the vessel.
In January 2018, the estimate to raise the vessel was $44,000-$55,000. A separate fee would be charged for disposing of the boat.
The estimate has risen significantly since.
“The boat’s been under the water for two years now and the dry parts that were above the water line have now been exposed to the elements under the water and are much heavier. They are waterlogged,” White said.
“Without doing an exploratory dive, some of these answers are speculation from past experience,” he said.
The cost to remove the vessel now could range from $80,000, without disposal, to $200,000, to “clamshell” the boat, a procedure that requires a barge and tugboat, White said.
White believes a couple of masts still peek above water at low tide.
At this point, White said, the boat is most likely a derelict, or a vessel that cannot float on its own.
The town of Wiscasset has contacted several agencies in an effort to remove the vessel, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Maine Department of Marine Resources, and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Last fall, the DMR’s law enforcement agency, Maine Marine Patrol, discussed the issue with Dave Chabot, of the Maine Warden Service’s Landowner Relations Program, who said the program might be able to help.
Chabot said more recently that he has not given up looking for help and funding for removal of the vessel. However, it would be a huge effort to get a ship of that size to shore.
Penalties for littering vary depending upon the volume and weight of the litter, according to Maine law.
In a phone interview after the hearing, Irving explained two possible options for moving forward.
The town could sue Morrison, she said, or the Coast Guard could remove the boat if they deem it a hazard to navigation.
“They basically remove it and give him the bill, so it would be paid for out of federal money and Mr. Morrison would be liable for that,” Irving said.