Island Belle: Open for business, in spite of order to free up Norwalk River

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.

The email:

“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.”


14 responses to “Island Belle: Open for business, in spite of order to free up Norwalk River”

  1. John Frank sr

    While there are unresolved lawsuits between Hart’s company and the City, he asked to use the VISITOR’S dock at Vet’s park, in a AAA zone, to support his business again ? Is the necessary parking in the park also part of his request ? I hope the City legal dept. composes an answer to that request. If he is allowed to operate his business in a City park, how can the next requests be denied ?

  2. Just curious

    This issue reaffirms my belief Ken Hart has no long term solution. He will probably move once forced to and not before then. Just look at his past actions and it seems pretty clear he has no intention of complying with any orders to vacate unless it’s under the cover of darkness and no one knows where this albatross ends up next.It’s time to realize there is no room for a vessel of this size to safely tie up in this harbor where he can be in compliance with all the necessary requirements. MOVE ON!

  3. Ergo

    If I was interested in a private function or special event on the Island Belle, I certainly am not now. I wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole. Ken Hart has been sticking it to the town of Norwalk. I don’t know why anyone would want to support such a shady and self centered person.
    At this point, for me, the only resolution would be for it to set sail and not return to Norwalk. I’d love for Hart to try this B.S. elsewhere.

  4. Is this the same vessel that sat in Greenwich Harbor outside the former Showboat Hotel (now Delamar) for many many years.

  5. Tom Keegan

    Leslie Yager…the answer to that question is no. That vessel “The Showboat” was originally a ride at Freedomland in the Bronx. It is now docked on the Port Chester side of the Byram River.

  6. Benthere Donethat

    I went on the Island Belle last 4th of July to watch the fireworks at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, and it was awesome. We departed from the ferry terminal and traveled into the mouth of Black Rock Harbor. Creole food, drinks, and everything was wonderful.
    The Island Belle is the best thing to happen to the Wall St area in many years. It sure beats a stinky asphalt plant and a dusty cement business. Yuck.

  7. Justsaying

    Hart is rude and thinks he owns the Norwalk Dock. Are there restrictions the for use of Veterans Park? NO to commercial use!!!!!!! It is a temporary visitors dock put in place for launching purposes and non-commercial boats.
    What has Hart already cost the City taxpayers?

  8. Suzanne

    Hart stays where he is because he can.

    Let’s say I have a food truck. I insist on leaving my food truck in, say, a parking lot in SoNo. I leave it and leave it and leave it. It blocks other cars from using parking spots. How long to you think that would last before my food truck would be towed and impounded?

    There. Impound and tow the unlawful “vehicle” out of town. Let Devine Brothers get on with their business and the bulk head be restored to O and G.

  9. michael foley

    I really can’t believe this is still going on !! the boat is blocking deliveries to a business and costing them more money to do business because they have to Truck in there products ?? REALLY !! Get This Boat out of there Now !

  10. Joanne Romano

    Why has a cease and desist order not been issued? How is it that this man is constantly disregarding all orders to not dock in Norwalk? Hasn’t his vessel caused enough damage and money to area businesses already? Not to mention the debacle when it broke loose and caused damage to the docks. What part of we don’t want you here doesn’t he get?

  11. Don’t Panic

    Mr. Moccaie, JUST SAY NO.

    If it weren’t so tragic, it would be funny. Hart refuses to move within 14 days because of the hardship to his business–when he is being asked to leave because he is causing hardship on other businesses. He sure has brass, big ones…

  12. Oldtimer

    If Hart is allowed to use the visitor’s dock at any time, for any reason, I hope the City’s agent, probably Mr. Mocciae, is smart enough to collect cash in advance for the full amount. I also hope Mocciae is smart enough to confer with the law dept before he agrees to anything with Mr Hart.

  13. granny

    Wasn’t there a guy recently that was going to begin a fast boat run between Norwalk and Long Island? Where will that vessel tie up if service does begin? Granted, the Belle has had some issues, the damages at Vets should be satisfied, regardless of fault but if that issue is resolved not sure why all the nay sayers that always talk about the importance of small businesses and the lack of a welcoming atmosphere at city hall, are shooting down a possible asset. There is a lack of developed dock space and an apparent lack of will to address that issue but if it was addressed than where the Belle operates from would not be an issue. A larger concern should be Belle’s seagoing worthiness, the installation and operation of safety devices and communications and staff preparedness. Glancing at recent passenger maritime disasters with considerable loss of life, that should be a major focus as opposed to where the durn thing parks.

  14. Suzanne

    Dear Granny, You have some good points BUT think about what Mr. Hart is doing. He is basically thumbing his nose at the City while preventing other businesses from doing their business. I can’t think of another small business that would be allowed to do that. Mr. Hart’s Island Belle, then, is not an asset nor a desirable small business for the City. Rather he has managed to alienate and indefensibly prevent other long standing businesses from doing their work. He needs to go, along with his boat. The issue of dock space can be addressed later – as soon as he is gone. The seaworthiness of his vessel is his responsibility as it would be with any other privately owned vessel in the Marina unless he is expecting Norwalk to pay for that too. To that I would say, absolutely not. He is not a charity nor government entity but a private business. The vessel’s state of repair or disrepair is his to fix. Any other small business would be required to do the same.

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