Boat captain says Greenport Village is out to get him

09/05/2014 8:00 AM |
Sid Smith, who captains The Merit fishing boat out of Greenport, believes he's being punished by village officials for being outspoken over issues concerning the village. He was told to vacate the railroad dock earlier this year for not having enough insurance. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Sid Smith, who captains The Merit fishing boat out of Greenport, believes he’s being punished by village officials for being outspoken over issues concerning the village. He was told to vacate the railroad dock earlier this year for not having enough insurance. (Credit: Paul Squire)

At a recent Greenport code committee meeting, village officials floated the idea of increasing marine insurance requirements for commercial boat owners who keep vessels at the railroad dock.

But committee members — including Mayor David Nyce and village attorney Joseph Prokop — balked at the proposal, which would raise the minimum required coverage from $1 million to $2 million. 

The committee agreed that forcing commercial fishermen to pay for a $2 million insurance policy would present an insurmountable hurdle for their small businesses.

Yet for one — and only one — very outspoken boat captain who uses the dock, the village has required just that, The Suffolk Times has found.

That captain, Sid Smith, who owns a 63-foot fishing vessel called Merit, claims village officials have tried to run him off the dock — and, in effect, destroy his business — as payback for outspoken remarks he’s made against the fireboat museum at the dock and other outspoken criticisms of the village.

Mr. Smith — who says he’s docked his boat there for 17 years without incident — received a letter from the village dated July 25 informing him he’d have to vacate the dock by Sept 1. The village said he was being forced out because he didn’t have proof of a $2 million insurance policy for the boat.

Village records acquired through Freedom of Information Law requests show that all the other ship owners using the railroad dock carry $1 million insurance policies. One owner carries a $4 million excess insurance policy, though that coverage is voluntary and beyond the $1 million minimum requirement listed in the village code.

“I’m singled out,” Mr. Smith said. “That’s the price for standing up for what you think is right. And I knew there might be a problem when I [spoke out]. I was aware there was going to be something down the road, but I was willing to fight anyway.”

Reached this week for an explanation, the Greenport Village attorney blamed higher Suffolk County insurance requirements, saying the county was “superseding” village code, but representatives from County Legislator Al Krupski’s office said the county has nothing to do with the dock anymore, since it’s in the process of relinquishing control to the village.

Boat owners don’t pay the village for insurance policies, but must provide proof to the village that they have acquired coverage privately. Boaters are required to pay a docking permit fee to the village.

Two marine insurance salesmen told the newspaper that the coverage the village is requiring of Mr. Smith is out of the ordinary.

“It’s really nonsensical,” said Robert Wells of Wells & Co. Marine Insurance Agency, who is Mr. Smith’s agent. “I could get it for him but it would put him out of business.”

Chris Mahlstedt of Island Wide Marine Agency — who insures other vessels moored at the railroad dock — said a $2 million policy is a “highly unusual” request for an operation the size of Mr. Smith’s. None of his clients in Greenport Village have had their insurance coverage requirements increased by the village, he said.

“If he’s the only one being required to do it, that is strange,” Mr. Mahlstedt said. “I don’t get that.”

Another fisherman who uses the dock, contacted randomly by the newspaper, agreed with Mr. Smith’s claims that he’s being targeted by the village.

“He’s been railroaded. He’s getting screwed,” said the fisherman, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from the village. “This is a vendetta. They don’t like Sid.”

The fisherman said he’s never known Mr. Smith to encounter issues with how he runs his business.

In the July 25 letter written by the village attorney to Mr. Smith, and later provided to The Suffolk Times by Mr. Smith, the village gave notice that it has terminated Mr. Smith’s license to stay at the railroad dock and that he must leave by Sept. 1.

Members of the Village Board voted 4-0 during a June 23 meeting to have Mr. Prokop draft the letter. Trustee Mary Bess Phillips, whose family owns commercial fishing operations in the village, recused herself from that vote.

Though the letter claims Mr. Smith violated village code by not insuring Merit for $2 million, subsection 48-17 of the code states that vessel owners are required to have proof of insurance for only $1 million, not the $2 million figure cited by the town attorney.

When reached for comment Tuesday — a day after Mr. Smith was supposed to leave the railroad dock, according to Mr. Prokop’s letter — village officials gave conflicting information about what was going on. 

Comments

comments