BELFAST, Maine — Mark Haskell is a man on a mission but he’d much rather be on his Sea-Doo.
The Camden resident, who also owns a home on Lake St. George in Liberty, was in Belfast District Court on Tuesday to contest a ticket he was issued this summer after he proudly rode his flag-bedecked machine in a boat parade on the lake.
The use of personal watercraft on Lake St. George has been forbidden since 2008, when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court determined that communities can decide whether to ban the speedy machines on their lakes and ponds. The personal watercraft are sold under such brands as Jet Ski and Sea-Doo.
“It is so crazy, and it is so unbelievable that it feels foolish,” Haskell said of the law against personal watercraft on the lake. “It’s based on, ‘I don’t like it. You can’t do it. Go somewhere else.’”
However, Haskell hasn’t gone somewhere else and has continued to ride his Sea-Doo for the past three summers on the lake in an act that he calls civil disobedience but other lake residents call something else.
“The town of Liberty voted,” said Andrea Caldwell of Liberty, who snapped a photo of Haskell’s entry in the boat parade and was issued a subpoena to appear in court as a witness. “We do not want Jet Skis. This upsets me very much. For me, it wasn’t personal at all. The law is the law. A lot of people come and rent at the lake and abide by the law. And then there’s Mark.”
Haskell brought a pile of documents to court from his previous legal efforts as well as a large photograph of him on his Sea-Doo. The caption at the top of the photo reads “Proud Rebel” in large letters.
He said that the dispute really began in 2002 when a group of children “raised holy hell” on their personal watercraft.
After that, the town of Liberty, whose borders contain the whole of the large, popular Lake St. George, voted in 2003 to approve a municipal ban against the devices.
Haskell, a photographer by trade, intentionally operated his personal watercraft on the lake in 2005 in an attempt to challenge the ban. A game warden observed Haskell on his watercraft and wrote him a ticket for a civil violation.
The dispute traveled first to Belfast District Court in 2007, when Superior Court Justice Donald H. Marden found Haskell not guilty because the state law giving municipalities the authority to ban personal watercraft was unduly arbitrary and violated an individual’s rights, according to BDN archives.
But then the case was heard again by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which determined in May 2008 that municipalities do have the right to ban personal watercraft after all.
Haskell said this week that his legal efforts thus far have cost him more than $20,000 in lawyer’s fees.
“I started out saying that was OK, and it was the principle of the thing, but I’m not paying lawyers anymore,” he said.
On Wednesday, Haskell acted as his own attorney in a short trial, arguing before Judge Susan Oram that his case has merit.
Caldwell and Maine Game Warden Justin Fowlie both testified about what happened in July. Caldwell saw him on his Sea-Doo and later called the Maine Warden Service to lodge a complaint. Fowlie issued him a ticket for violating the ban.
“He didn’t deny it,” Fowlie said.
“I know that you cannot condone civil disobedience and that your duty requires you to enforce the law,” Haskell said in court.
But Oram said that Haskell could not use Belfast District Court to essentially “do over” a previous case. Ultimately she gave him his day in court but said she would issue a written ruling at a later date.
“I think she actually listened,” Haskell said later that day.
One person who said that perhaps Haskell already has said enough regarding his wishes to ride his personal watercraft on Lake St. George was Linda Breslin of the Citizens Association of Liberty Lakes.
“From my perspective, we can’t be supporting Mr. Haskell breaking the law, which he does when he uses his personal watercraft on that particular lake,” she said Tuesday. “We are not going to get into this fray with Mr. Haskell. That’s what his mission is, and he’s tormenting the warden service. The wardens have better things to do than this. The law court already ruled on it. He’s wasting his time here.”