Island Belle’s visit raises questions about suit, permanent return

The Island Belle sits alongside O&G Industries on Sunday in Norwalk’s upper harbor.

NORWALK, Conn. – The appearance of the Island Belle in Norwalk’s upper harbor area over the weekend, first reported here Sunday morning, has created much talk and speculation, and has raised a few questions.

Why did the Mississippi River-style stern-wheeler cruise back into Norwalk and dock at O&G Industries alongside Smith Street? Is there a plan afoot to bring the charter vessel back to Norwalk on a permanent basis?

What about the lawsuit that was reportedly filed against Island Belle operator Ken Hart’s Sound Charter Group last summer? No one we contacted or tried to contact could supply us with a copy or direct us to the information online, making the suit and its details impossible to confirm.

Several people have contacted NancyOnNorwalk about the status of the suit, and some have gone so far as to question whether a suit was ever filed, as there is no record of it on the state court system website.

Norwalk Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said Assistant Corporation Counsel Carrie Colangelo is “handling this matter” of the suit, and that she would get back to NancyOnNorwalk. She did not respond Tuesday. Mayor Harry Rilling said he was told the issue is in Housing Court, but promised to get back to us when told there was no evidence of the suit on that site.

Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mocciae, who is responsible for the visitors dock where the boat was berthed before and during Superstorm Sandy, responded by saying, “I heard that he was back in the city. Currently the city is still in litigation with Mr. Hart so I am unable to comment on his standing at this time.”

Hart’s lawyer, Albert T. Strazza, did not return a request for information about the suit. Hart, though, said his lawyer has a copy of the suit. “There is definitely a lawsuit,” he said.

The suit, reportedly filed last summer, is said to have alleged the boat caused thousands of dollars in damage to the visitors dock during Superstorm Sandy where it remained moored after Hart ignored an order from the city to remove it. The suit also reportedly alleged Hart’s company had not made lease payments or paid event fees for several months. The suit reportedly asked for payment of more than $15,000.

Still, rumors have circulated in the city that the recent dredging and relocation of the dock was done to accommodate the Island Belle’s return to Norwalk. But the work was primarily done, city officials said, to accommodate fire, rescue and police boats.

Hart said the vessel’s current visit is temporary, but, despite the legal problems, he hopes to return to Norwalk on a permanent basis.

“She’s in transit,” he said of the Island Belle. “She goes all over the place. It’s our hope to come back to Norwalk but not in the capacity before. You have no idea the amount of people in the last 16 months who said ‘bring it back.’

“I’ve always wanted to come back to the city, it’s a good program for the harbor,” he said. “It’s good for everyone. The money goes into the parks department.”


6 responses to “Island Belle’s visit raises questions about suit, permanent return”

  1. Piberman

    Is this a case of the “missing suit” or transparent governance ? If a suit was actually filed by the City then how come it seems not to be in the public record ? Unless its a “suit in formation” ? Clearly by returning the Belle to Norwalk the owners have no fear of forfeiture. Looks like more legal smoke than fire here with City officials confused. Hmmm.

  2. Oldtimer

    Curiouser and curioser. Several sources say there is a lawsuit working it’s way through the courts, some even say it was assigned to housing court, others say there never was a law suit filed, just a press release designed to prevent discussion, because of “pending litigation”, during the campaign. There are people that believe Hart only moved the boat from Bridgeport trying to avoid thousands in unpaid docking fees there. Something is definitely not right. Who should we believe ?

  3. LWitherspoon

    Why would a lawsuit regarding unpaid dock fees and dock damage be assigned to Housing Court?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ LWitherspoon

      Our reaction exactly. Apparently it has something to do with the fact that it involves a lease and property rights. Really.

  4. Oldtimer

    Maybe just as a way to be sure it got stalled there until well after the election and possibly until long after we all lost interest and it could be quietly settled without the risk of anyone speaking publicly about how much cash Hart paid and who received it. This plan, of course, depended on the idea that Moccia would get elected. Now that Rilling is the mayor. it all gets a bit more complicated.

  5. Oldtimer

    If Hart ever claims, under oath, that he paid a lot more cash than City records show, there is some risk somebody will go to federal prison. The FBI loves municipal corruption cases.

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