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.”
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