Updated, 3:49 p.m.: Comment from Richard Warren of O&G.
NORWALK, Conn. – A Mississippi River-style stern-wheeler that has been requested to leave its berth in the Norwalk River is instead advertising for business.
The Island Belle is blocking barges from reaching Devine Brothers, which is located across the river from the tourist boat’s berth at O&G Industries in the upper Norwalk River, according to emails sent from Harbor Master Michael Griffin to members of the Harbor and Shellfish commissions. On Wednesday, Griffin sent another email to owner Ken Hart, saying that he will contact state and federal authorities to discuss an appropriate course of action, given that the boat is still there more than six weeks after being asked to leave. The barges cannot reach Devine, Griffin said in the Wednesday email.
Griffin complains of a lack of communication from Hart, but the river boat operator has been in touch with Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae.
“Ken Hart has requested the use of the Veteran’s Docks through email for two dates to board and debark passengers from his vessel,” Mocciae wrote in an email.
The Recreation and Parks Department was recently granted a permit to use the visitor’s dock for commercial purposes.
Hart is involved in a lawsuit with Norwalk, stemming from damage done to the visitor’s dock just before Superstorm Sandy came in on Oct. 29, 2012. The Island Belle left Norwalk shortly after that, only to surprise Norwalk harbormasters with a return under the cloak of darkness in mid-January this year. Since then, Shellfish Commission Chairman Pete Johnson has filed complaints with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Johnson said the boat was sitting on the bottom at low tide. He called that a danger to shellfish beds and said the up and down motion of the boat against the rocks might cause a breech in the hull, which would be a disaster if that breech involved the fuel tank.
Johnson said Wednesday that DEEP had ruled that the boat rests on a “dead area,” where nothing grows.
NancyOnNorwalk has not been able to get any information from the Coast Guard despite several requests.
Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said in a Wednesday email that the lawsuit “has not been resolved yet. The parties are still in the process of discussing a possible resolution of the case.”
He declined to elaborate, but Mocciae said the lawsuit would not prevent Hart from docking at Veterans Park to pick up and drop off passengers.
Griffin referred in his email to the assistant attorney general and the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
“I am reaching out to you today seeking an update on your M/V the Island Belle’s berthing at the O&G bulkhead. After our group’s meeting on Friday, April 25, 2014, it was my understanding, from both you and your attorney, that I would receive an updated report, within one week, on your firm’s progress, success or failure in reaching a local solution to the then existing navigation, commerce issue. During said meeting, that you requested, it was made painfully clear to all those attending that the CG licensed Captains of the two transportation companies will not, under any circumstances, deliver products to Devine Bros. while your vessel is berthed at or in the vicinity of the O&G bulkhead. While you were under my original order to permanently relocate your vessel you requested that I vacate said order based on three points, First that the time frame, 14 days, of my original order was unreasonable and created a hardship for your water dependent business, second that your vessel was legally berthed and third that through a meeting of the involved parties a local resolution could be reached. I accepted that course of action and have remained hopeful that water borne commerce would resume more quickly following this course as opposed to forcing this issue through the enforcement and legal system. However as I said earlier my past action, vacating my original order, may only prove to at best be temporary lacking reasonable progress. As you were informed I will be meeting with the AAG, DOT Bureau of Aviation and Ports, along with other interested parties, if necessary during the week of May 12, 2014, to discuss an appropriate future course of action to insure the movement of water borne commerce does resume on the upper reaches of the Norwalk River.”
O&G Industries Facilities Manager Richard Warren confirmed Thursday that he has “had conversations” with Hart.
“We have asked him to leave,” Warren said. “… He will be leaving. I do not have a date.”