If Greenport waters were roiling last week after the village warned that moorings in Stirling Harbor without proper permits might be removed, tempers came to a full boil last Thursday after village officials did pull out six moorings, saying they were illegal.
Marine contractor John Costello, who had four moorings removed, says he’s talking to maritime attorneys about how to proceed. Two others whose moorings were pulled — Greenport residents Antoon Schollee and Richard Greenfield — are complaining that the harbormaster’s actions were illegal.
“Mayor Nyce’s hired hands, acting illegally, roughly removed my boat from its mooring; they then pulled the mooring ball and tackle out of the water and absconded with it to an undisclosed location,” Mr. Schollee wrote in a letter to the editor that appears in today’s paper.
Without proof from Mr. Nyce that the village has jurisdiction over the navigable waters surrounding the village, Mr. Schollee said he will consider the village’s action “an illegal infringement” and will insist on his “legal right” to his mooring.
Mr. Greenfield said the first notice he received had come from Mr. Costello on Monday, who told him his mooring had been removed. Mayor David Nyce, in a phone interview Tuesday, said Mr. Greenfield had been given notice a year and a half ago warning that his mooring might be removed. He also said he had spoken to Mr. Schollee’s lawyer, who argued that Mr. Schollee and Mr. Greenfield had Army Corps permits for their moorings and should be allowed to keep them in place. Mr. Nyce said he had no authority to approve such an arrangement. Anyone who wants a mooring in the village mooring field needs village permits, not Army Corps permits, he said.
The mayor said that although the Army Corps of Engineers had dredged Stirling Basin, it had no authority to approve any moorings there. That power rested with the village, which, by agreement with the New York State Department of State, controls the mooring field within 1,500 feet of the shoreline, he said.
As for Mr. Costello, Mr. Nyce said he had never had permission to put any of his four moorings in place.
On July 27, 2009, the Village Board approved the removal of the Schollee and Greenfield moorings, but no action was taken until last Thursday. Village Board members on Nov. 23, 2009, directed then-harbormaster Joe Angevine to provide two moorings to Mr. Costello before the winter, with the single constraint that they be placed so that other boats would still have sufficient egress from the harbor.
Mr. Costello’s moorings were supposed to go where Mr. Schollee and Mr. Greenfield had their unauthorized moorings, the mayor said. Since no action had been taken to remove them, Mr. Costello was never given the mooring space he was supposed to have last winter.
Mr. Greenfield, in a phone interview Tuesday, said he had had his mooring in place since 1989. He said Stirling Basin is not a natural harbor and that it was created by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1930s. He said he had researched the history before placing his mooring and found that the Army Corps had asked Southold Town and Greenport Village to share in the cost of the dredging and provide transient dock space in Stirling Harbor.
The town and village balked, but the Army Corps thought the need for the harbor was important enough “for the people of the United States” that it took on the project alone, Mr. Greenfield said. His mooring used a 400-pound mushroom anchor that met Army Corps of Engineer standards, while the village’s cement moorings don’t, he said.
In 1990, a previous Village Board maintained that it alone had the authority to issue permits for the mooring field, but a court decision overturned the village claim, Mr. Greenfield said. He said Mr. Nyce recognized his right to the mooring three years ago when he requested that Mr. Greenfield rent the mooring to Mr. Costello.
The mayor doesn’t deny making that request but said the action last week in removing the moorings was based on the July 2009 resolution authorizing such action.
Mr. Costello said that the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program calls for encouragement of maritime businesses and he questioned how the removal of his moorings could reflect that mandate. He also questioned why there had been so little turnover in moorings in recent years, especially given the economy that presumably would have forced some of those renting moorings to give up boating or leave the area.
The mayor said only that a review of the village’s mooring fields is under way and that he would like to create more moorings, but with the size of typical boats on the rise he didn’t yet know whether that will be possible.
Mr. Costello didn’t directly answer a question about whether he considered his placement of four moorings illegal. He said he has long been asking for moorings and Village Board members did agree to provide them as soon as possible.
There’s also a question about the removal of one of Mr. Costello’s moorings since the boat on it had federal documentation that prohibited anyone from boarding it to move it without permission of the owner. The boat was moved to another mooring without his permission, Mr. Costello said.