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Norwalk councilman: Island Belle unwanted

Norwalk Center Wall Street 011-2014-04-06
The Island Belle sits just south of Wall Street in Norwalk.

NORWALK, Conn. – Don’t expect Island Belle operator Ken Hart to get a friendly reception if he decides again to approach Common Council members about once again making Norwalk his base of operations.

The Mississippi-style river boat remains docked at O&G Industries on South Smith Street, where it has been since late January, although it was recently asked to leave, according to emails obtained by NancyOnNorwalk. Its arrival here followed a 1½-year long exile, which came after the Veteran’s Park Visitor’s Dock was destroyed while the city attempted to move the Island Belle as Superstorm Sandy came crashing in. During that time, the city and Hart have been fighting a legal battle in Housing Court over the damages, with no resolution as yet.

A concerned reader asked Wednesday what is up with the boat? He wanted to know: How could the city allow it to dock at the Visitor’s Dock when a lawsuit is pending?

There is no plan as yet to allow the Island Belle to use the dock, although the  Recreation and Parks Department recently obtained a permit for commercial usage of the dock from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, according to Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Petrini (R-District D).

“We have never been in any conversations other than when (Hart) showed up at the committee. I was just as surprised as anybody else,” Petrini said, referring to a hearing about park fees.

Hart also appeared at the council meeting on the topic, getting an unfriendly reaction from Mayor Harry Rilling. Hart said he hoped the city would allow the Island Belle to resume business in the city, perhaps encouraging the business by reducing the docking fee when the boat isn’t full. The city set a rate of $3 per foot for a commercial vessel to use the dock.

Petrini said Wednesday that, in spite of the ongoing litigation, he doesn’t think the city could refuse Hart the usage of the dock if he meets the standards of the permit.

But, “He’s got to pay that $3 per foot like anybody else,” Petrini said. “His customers have to pay for parking if they don’t have a sticker. That is just to load and unload; he cannot stay there overnight or any extended period. Just like everybody else.”

Complaints have been filed with the Coast Guard and DEEP about the Island Belle sitting on the bottom at low tide in it current location. Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound Investigations Division Chief Dawn Kallen has not returned phone calls asking about the situation. DEEP also did not respond to an email about the situation.

Shellfish Commission Chairman Pete Johnson, who filed the complaint, said he hadn’t heard anything.

The sternwheeler is blocking barge traffic, emails obtained by NancyOnNorwalk last month say. Johnson said the only thing he knew was that, about two weeks ago, there were “two letters from tugboat captains saying they want it out of there.”

Harbor Master Michael Griffin did not return a phone call requesting comment.

Petrini said it’s not likely the Island Belle would be allowed to dock at the Visitor’s Dock permanently, as it was before Superstorm Sandy.

“Nothing will be (discussed) until I get some advice from legal that this thing (the suit) has been settled. I’m not about to talk to him when there is litigation. When that happens, if he comes here and asks for the berth there, my vote is no and I would believe the rest of the committee would vote that way, too,” he said.

No one has talked to Hart, he said.

“No one on our committee gave him permission for anything,” he said. “I’d be surprised if that changed because I don’t think anybody on my committee feels that we want him back there. There’s not too many people in the city that do.”

Comments

19 responses to “Norwalk councilman: Island Belle unwanted”

  1. Piberman

    If the Belle is indeed violating City and Federal statutes one can only wonder at the City’s apparent legal ineptness in securing compensation from prior damage inflicted by the Belle and ineptness/unwillingness to remove the irksome Belle from City waters. Maybe the Belle’s owners have astutely concluded the City’s legal department is a marshmallow. The City’s inability to resolve quickly the Belle mess doesn’t speak well for Mayor Rilling’s “new Norwalk”.
    Send in the lawyers !

  2. John Frank sr

    Somebody at the Coast Guard told me, in recent phone inquiry, that the Island Belle is now certified to carry passengers, but would not answer any questions from a private citizen about when and how it was last inspected without a formal written FOI request. The person I spoke with allowed that they would probably give more information to an inquiry from a known press, or City of Norwalk, representative without a formal FOI inquiry.
    My interest, in calling the Coast Guard, was in the risks involved in being a passenger on the Island Belle, knowing the way it has been mismanaged since Mr. Hart first brought it to Norwalk. It is a steel hull which has been allowed to sit on the bottom at the City visitor’s dock and at the O&G property, where it sits now. Without a survey that includes measuring the remaining thickness of the steel, it is impossible to determine the damage the bottom of the ship has suffered over the years since it was built.
    Steel hulls, in salt water, are subject to electrolysis damage and need to be equipped with sacrificial anodes (Zincs) to protect the steel. These anodes are consumed and need to be replaced at regular intervals, depending on their size relative to the size of the vessel, generally no less than every two or three years. This is generally done when the vessel is hauled out of the water. If the anodes are not maintained, the hull itself is consumed by electrolysis and will eventually leak and sink, endangering perhaps hundreds of passengers. Norwalk does not have rescue boats capable of carrying a full load of passengers if the Island Belle sinks. Privately owned vessels would have to be called on for help, if possible.
    Have the sacrificial Anodes on the Island Belle been maintained ?
    Has the bottom of the Island Belle been dangerously damaged by sitting on the bottom every twelve hours, both at the City docks and at O&G ? Until the City has answers, the Island Belle should not be in any way supported by the City as a party boat based in Norwalk. The extent of any City support will be determined by others, but, should not, in my opinion, allow docking at the VISITOR’S DOCK or use of Vet’s park as a business address in a AAA residence zone (Vet’s Park).
    Mr. Hart (is he a licensed Captain ?), like any other business owner, should buy or rent, a place for his business with adequate parking and secure docking for the vessel, without any subsidy by the taxpayers. All the other party venues in Norwalk are required to pay substantial property taxes for their facilities and parking lots.

  3. Oldtimer

    For the record, this is cut and paste from the Island Belle website (Sound Charter Group) quoting Ken Hart.
    “In 2008, I started Sound Charter Group and soon found a magnificent partner to help me fulfill my dream. She was bold she was beautiful she was tough as steel. She was a 130 foot, 600 passenger, 3-story Mississippi River Paddle Wheeler.”

  4. EastNorwalkChick

    @John Frank Sr. – In order to change the Zincs and inspect the bottom it would have be hauled out of the water, it would have to a marina that could handle a commercial vessel this large, the closest one I can think of is in Bridgeport across from the ferry.
    .
    Prior to coming back to Norwalk, the Island Belle was docked Bridgeport, so it could have been hauled then. But I highly doubt that Mr. Hart would pay for that to be done especially since he skipped out in the middle of the night without paying his dock fees at that marina too.
    .
    Like I and many others have said before, this is an accident waiting to happen….

  5. EastNorwalkChick

    @Oldtimer – He also lists his location as Veteran’s Park, Norwalk….

  6. Oldtimer

    Island Belle was built 25 years ago for another cruise company as the Annabel Lee out of Richmond, VA. and put up for sale in 1986. Original engines were rebuilt (not new) two cycle 8-92 Detroit diesels rated at 310 horsepower each.
    East Norwalk Chick
    Exactly, I would expect the Coast Guard would want to see it when it was out of water and do some inspection at that time. At some point, if it is not hauled for inspection and maintenance, the Coast Guard can pull it’s certificate to carry passengers, effectively putting Mr. Hart out of business.

  7. Oldtimer

    In fresh water, out-of-water Coast Guard inspections on passenger vessels are required every five years, in salt water, every two. The Annabelle Lee was a fresh water vessel in the James River. Under Hart’s ownership, it has been re-named as ISLAND BELLE and is now a salt water vessel.
    SOURCE: http://www.uscg.mil/d8/sectumr/Prevention/docs/Inspection_Documents/Preparing%20For%20SPV%20DD.pdf

  8. Oldtimer

    Correction: Spirit Cruises company put the Annabelle lee up for sale in 2006, not 1986.

  9. Piberman

    Why are Common Councilmen involved here save to get press headlines ? The City has regulations, a legal Dept and $150,000 Dept Heads presumably able to deal with this matter. Unless the Belle owners concluded that all City officials are just “marshmallows”. Would any other city tolerate such civic ineptitude by public officials ? Not likely.

  10. NorwalkFisher

    http://cgmix.uscg.mil/PSIX/PSIXDetails.aspx

    Vessel Information: Vessel Particulars:
    Vessel Name: ISLAND BELLE
    VIN: 930837
    Hull Number: 154
    Vessel Flag: UNITED STATES
    Vessel Call Sign: WDD5661
    Build Year: 1988 Service: Passenger (Inspected)
    Length: 92.3 ft
    Breadth: 34.0 ft
    Depth: 6.6 ft
    Alternate VINs: CG009100930837,
    IMO Number:

    Document Agency Date Issued Expiration Date
    CERTIFICATE OF DOCUMENTATION USCG January 14, 2014 February 28, 2015
    Certificate of Inspection USCG April 26, 2012 April 26, 2017
    Certificate of Inspection – Amended USCG April 26, 2012 April 26, 2017
    Stability Letter MSC January 11, 2012

  11. NorwalkFisher

    @EastNorwalkChick Is it possible the boat is registered as Freshwater boat still and that’s why it still hasn’t been hull checked? A boat sitting on the bottom can be harmless if its mud….But I assume if it was rock there would already be a hole in it.

  12. Oldtimer

    Norwalk Fisher
    That raid was in July of 2010 and the boat looks like the Island Belle, but was still clearly marked the Annabel Lee. In stories about the raid, it is identified as a party boat out of Stamford and the raid was actually by the New York City Police, with a coast guard boat standing by. It is not clear in any of the stories why it was raided, and there is no mention of anybody being arrested. Hart’s story makes it sound like he owned it by then, and is not clear when the name was changed. The Island Belle website does not now list any New York City ports of call. Be interesting to know why it left Stamford.

  13. Oldtimer

    Where it sits now, at the O&G dock is clearly stone, but probably not single big stones, mostly small stone spilled when unloading barges to the O&G paving plant. Only way to know is to look at the hull with the boat out of water. There are instruments that can measure thickness of steel from outside and inspectors can look for extent of electrolysis damage. We don’t know if it was sitting on the bottom in other places where it has been tied up. That is why regular inspections are required. Your post makes it look like it was inspected in 2012 and certificate was issued for five years (Fresh water standard ?)

  14. NorwalkFisher

    Interesting…..So why is city of Norwalk allowing this charter to operate when there is back due fees? I know all permits etc.etc. are ok but how is it possible to continue to do pickups when you owe the city $$?

    How did the United States Coast Guard certify a boat that is AGROUND twice a day without hauling it out of the water?

    Is it possible the boat is still considered a freshwater boat? Even though it’s a saltwater boat?

    Being what just happened in South Korea…I think we need to all do our part as citizens of Conneticut to make sure that this vessel is sound and safe….We dont have boats capable of helping a boat of this size…..600 passangers!!! And this thing sits on the ground 2 times a day? SOMETHINGS WRONG HERE! Think about it…..600 people on a boat that is constantly hitting the bottom……

  15. Oldtimer

    City has little or no power to regulate party boats. Such boats are regulated by either state or federal agencies. The City in this case has power to keep anybody from running a business at a City Park and to regulate use of the “visitor’s docks” at Vet’s park. If the operator of this party boat finds the right place to keep the boat and provide parking for up to 600 customers, in a business zone, the City has the power, and the responsibility, to enforce certain state laws covering every place of business serving food and liquor, but the City does not license or regulate much else concerning party boats.

  16. saltlife

    The boat was hauled prior to the grounding incidents in norwalk earlier in the Fall. Do you people really think that the coast guard would let someone operate a boat that did not at least meet the minimum safety requirements? The boat was dry-docked for two weeks in Staten Island. The hull was inspected thoroughly by the USCG. The bottom was cleaned, painted, and all required Zinc anodes were replaced by the ship yard. As far as a rock piercing the hull is concerned, that boat was built by service industries in New Orleans. The hull is way over built, and built to last. Every two years the boat is dry docked and inspected by the Coast Guard. If they find an area that is rotted or compromised, it must be cut out and replaced. These are standard operating procedures that apply to all USCG Inspected Passenger vessels operating in the United States.

  17. saltlife

    If you’d like to file a FOIL request, lookup the inspection particulars for case number:4733090 with the uscg. That was the most recent dry dock from october 2013.

  18. Don’t Panic

    If there were groundings since the Oct 2013 inspection, would it need to be inspected again? That would seem to be the case.

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