Boat deal saddens some in Eastport

Posted Nov. 26, 2009, at 9:53 p.m.
The Otto Miller in the Travelift coming out of the water.(Photo courtesy of John Miller)
The Otto Miller in the Travelift coming out of the water.(Photo courtesy of John Miller)
Otto Miller, Jr., legendary Boat School director that a vessel is named for. (Photo courtesy of John Miller)
Otto Miller, Jr., legendary Boat School director that a vessel is named for. (Photo courtesy of John Miller)

EASTPORT, Maine — A special boat, one that Eastporters have a sentimental attachment to, was sold to the highest bidder this week — a bid of $68,750 from a Machiasport lobster fisherman.

The 36-foot boat, owned by Washington County Community College, had been sitting in dry dock for three years, and despite a last-minute attempt that reached as high as Gov. John Baldacci’s office, the town of Eastport was unsuccessful in trying to bring the boat back home.

The buildings and property of what was known then as the WCCC Boat School were returned to the city three years ago through legislative approval after the Maine Community College System decided to abandon the marine trades program in Eastport.

The property originally had been transferred from the city to the state for the program to locate in Eastport and has been operating for more than 30 years.

Eastport now leases the school to Husson University of Bangor, which continues to run the school today.

But at the time of the sale, a special boat — the Otto Miller — ended up leaving the school for the WCCC campus. WCCC officials said it was intended as an important tool for their outdoor recreation class.

The Otto Miller was named after an Eastport man who was instrumental in the growth of the Boat School during its early years and was considered by many people to be a significant part of the school’s history.

“There was great hope the boat would remain part of the school’s rich history,” Eastport Town Manager George “Bud” Finch said this week.

State Sen. Kevin Raye said there was no brouhaha when the boat originally left the school and went to WCCC. “They said they needed it,” he said. “But there was a ripple of dismay and concern. There was great emotional attachment to the vessel.”

Suddenly last week, however, the boat was offered for sale by WCCC in a local newspaper with a minimum bid of $65,000. It had not been used for any WCCC programming.

Officials, including Raye, town councilors, Finch and boat school officials, scrambled to come up with a plan to save the boat and return it to the school.

Raye said he even spoke to Gov. Baldacci about saving the boat. “We asked him to help find a resolution. Basically, Eastport and the Boat School were trying to buy back what they believed was rightfully theirs.”

WCCC President William Cassidy said the boat was considered part of WCCC’s inventory. He said the adventure recreation and tourism classes couldn’t afford the Otto Miller’s maintenance and preferred to use fixed-keel sailboats, kayaks and canoes.

“We decided to liquidate the Otto Miller for a fixed-keel sailboat,” Cassidy said. “There is no money coming from the state, and we must be stewards of what we have.”

Meanwhile, a plan was being worked on behind the scenes that would have allowed Eastport, the Port of Eastport and Ocean Renewable Power Co. to partner in the purchase of the boat. The plan would return the Otto Miller to the Boat School but allow the power company to use it as part of their project of installing hydro-turbines in Cobscook Bay.

But the plan was a delicate one. “We were walking on eggshells,” Finch said. “I really thought, however, that we were going to win this one.

“The sale of the boat by WCCC was without opportunity for the city to negotiate its purchase and brought somewhat of a disappointing ending to the transition of the school properties from the state to the city,” Finch said.

In addition to resurrecting the marine trades program under Husson University, the Boat School facility also houses the Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology, a distance learning marine architectural school, a research center under the auspices of the University of Maine Sea Grant Program and Ocean Renewable Power Co.

The facility also provides both indoor and outdoor maintenance work space for the U.S. Coast Guard, Cook Aquaculture and a number of fishermen.

Finch said those who worked to bring the Otto Miller home are very disappointed but will continue to work to search for an alternative solution to their boating needs.

“We will also continue to recognize the significance of Otto Miller and his dedication to the marine trades program,” Finch said.

After the bid closure, Cassidy said he is happy the Otto Miller will “now be supporting the local economy” as a working fishing vessel.

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