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Mystic - Residents of Jerome Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood are calling on town officials to remove a partially sinking 45-foot boat from the Mystic River because they say it would pose a threat to their properties and several nearby marinas in the event of a storm.
The group, which has collected about 30 signatures on a petition calling for the boat's removal, is expected to address the Mystic River Harbor Management Commission when it meets at 7:30 tonight at the Fourth District Voting Hall.
"Should we have a substantial storm, and I remind you that we have had our first hurricane already; this boat could easily be pushed up on to any of the waterfront neighbor's property causing substantial property damage. And/or it could be blown up into one of the many area marinas causing substantial damage to area docks and the boats tied up in theses marinas," wrote Jerome Avenue resident George Dunnington in a July 23 letter to the commission. "The Town appears to me to be negligent and irresponsible by not taking immediate action to protect its harbors, precious natural resources and the property of its tax payers living in the area."
Harbormaster Paul Watts said Wednesday that boat owner Jim Murphy of Stonington must remove the boat, as it is sitting in the mud and not on a legal mooring.
"He has to refloat the boat and get it in (a) slip and off the mud flats," he said. "We're working with the town attorney and police to start legal action."
Murphy bought the boat last month and moved it to a location about 100 yards off Jerome Avenue. There, it sat next to a mooring assigned to a Jerome Avenue resident who was unable to use it. The boat began to take on water and sunk into the shallow river bottom.
After being contacted by the mooring owner, Murphy said Wednesday that on Sunday, he pumped out the water, replaced some plugs in the hull and towed it out into deeper water, where it now sits anchored about 250 yards offshore. Murphy said it is still listing because of water in one compartment, but he is working to remove that. Murphy disputed the commission's contention that it is a derelict vessel.
The commission said at its July 3 meeting that the steel boat had been moved from a legal to an illegal mooring and is now listing in the mud flats, according to the meeting minutes. Murphy said Wednesday that he has been trying to obtain a mooring from the harbor commission for about a decade and is under the impression he is entitled to one because he owns an undeveloped piece of waterfront property on nearby Roseleah Drive. Watts said that while it is true that property owners get moorings in front of their homes, the water in front of Murphy's is a shallow marsh, which means the boat would run aground.
Murphy said he is again submitting an application for a mooring this week to Watts. Murphy said if he is granted a mooring, the problem will be solved. Seventy-five people are on the waiting list. In his letter to the harbor commission, Dunnington asked why the commission cannot use stipulations in the harbor management plan and state law to "respond to this obvious and substantial violation."
"This large steel boat is anchored on top of a mooring properly designated by our Harbormaster. My neighbor cannot use his mooring. Should not this fact alone make it necessary for the Town to take immediate action and remove this illegally anchored boat?" he wrote.
Dunnington said state law also gives Watts the authority to remove the boat at Murphy's cost and fine him. He pointed out state law also allows police to remove the vessel and sell it at an auction.
He said the commission is reluctant to remove the vessel because members are concerned Murphy would not be able to pay for the cost or the fines. But Dunnington said that should not be a factor in deciding to remove the boat, as it could cause widespread damage to the marinas located just a few hundred yards from its present location.
Watts said the harbormaster boat is not powerful enough to tow Murphy's large boat, and a marine contractor would have to be hired, which would be expensive.
"This is a nuisance. I don't want it to get worse. We're doing everything we can. If he would be willing to work with us, that would be great," Watts said of Murphy.
On Tuesday, Dunnington pointed out where other boats have been abandoned in the river, including one behind the former Mystic Color Lab property.
"We do not want people to think they can just dump boats in the Town waters because nothing happens to them as they know it is much, much cheaper than disposing of them in a legal manner," he wrote in his letter to the commission.