NORWALK, Conn. – The operator of a Mississippi River-style stern-wheeler said Monday he is “looking forward to once again sailing from Norwalk and generating revenue for the city,” although he did not say when his boat would undergo a safety inspection required by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Ken Hart of Sound Charter Group LLC, operator of the Island Belle, has requested permission from the city to stop at the Norwalk Veterans Park visitor’s dock to pick up and drop off passengers on May 24 and June 7, Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae said. The boat has not yet undergone a mandatory inspection of its hull by divers, Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound Investigations Division Chief Dawn Kallen said Monday.
Hart said in a Monday email that the Island Belle will be leaving the O&G Industries dock “shortly.” The vessel is blocking barges from reaching Devine Brothers, according to emails sent by Harbor Master Mike Griffin to Harbor Management Commission and Shellfish Commission members. O&G Industries Facilities Manager Richard Warren said last week that Hart has been asked to leave.
Shellfish Commission Chairman Pete Johnson said in January that he had filed a complaint with the Coast Guard against the Island Belle because the vessel sits on the bottom at low tide.
Kallen said she has received three anonymous complaints about the boat. Coast Guard officers spoke to Hart and told him he would have to get a diver’s survey of the hull, but it hadn’t been done yet, she said in the Monday phone call.
“He can’t operate with paying passengers on board until he gets that survey,” she said. “… We need to make clear that this is a safe platform and we want to make sure that hull is still intact.”
That is the case with any boat that is aground, and a standard requirement for passenger vessels, she said.
The boat is also due for routine annual inspections, she said.
NoN emailed Hart and his lawyer Monday and asked if the hull inspection and other inspections had been scheduled. The email also asked, “When will Sound Charter Group be complying with the directive to relocate the Island Belle? Is there another dock lined up?”
“For the record, all issues regarding USCG are in process or have been addressed,” Hart wrote. “As far as relocating, as I have stated since our arrival, our program calls for us to serve many facilities other than Norwalk. Our tenancy here at O&G was always temporary. We have thanked O&G for their hospitality and let them know we will be sailing shortly. They have offered us future temporary berthing at their location should the need arise. As the vessel is safely and legally berthed, we of course would again confirm that any future use of the facility would pose no threat to safe navigation.”
Hart said his company is “readying our vessel for the season and will continue to service ports along the Connecticut and New York shoreline with wonderful family entertainment as well as corporate and private charters. Please share that with your readers as well.”
Hart declined, in a follow-up email, to give specific information about when the boat will be inspected or where it will go.
Kallen said the Coast Guard has no jurisdiction regarding the Island Belle’s alleged interference with barge deliveries to Devine Brothers unless the vessel is blocking the federally designated channel.
“That’s a civil matter with whoever else is using that waterway,” she said.
The Norwalk River Rowing club facility is located just south of O&G. A club coach said Monday that the Island Belle is not causing a problem “yet” for the rowers. If it begins going in and out of that dock, it will, she said.
Phone calls about the Island Belle have gone to Washington, D.C., which is counterproductive, Kallen said. She said anyone with a complaint should call Sector Long Island Sound at 203-468-4400.
Kallen did not return a NancyOnNorwalk inquiry about the Island Belle last week. She said that was because she was out of the office for two weeks.