EASTPORT, Maine — Two residents, David Gholson and Phyllis Bradbury, have sued their hometown over the pending sale of The Boat School.
Although assessed at $2.2 million, The Boat School — which consists of three buildings, more than 20 acres of land, a boat ramp, pier, floating docks and a boat lift — is being sold by the city for $375,000 to a local contractor. The deal requires $75,000 of that to be used to construct a new public access pier.
Gholson and Bradbury maintain that not only was the property not properly appraised, it was never legally put out to bid, which is required by the city charter. Gholson said that the boat lift alone — which was upgraded five years ago with a Maine Department of Transportation grant of $450,000 — is worth more than the entire selling price.
The sale of the school, which provides marine construction education for post-high school students and was previously operated by Husson University, was due to take place this month. The city-owned Deep Cove facility was approved for sale by the city council in September to CPM Constructors, a local firm that assembles hydropower generators for Ocean Renewable Power Company. CPM plans to gift the buildings now housing the school to The Friends of the Boat School, who will continue to operate it as a marine education facility.
But Gholson and Bradbury went to court to halt the deal, believing that the process is violating the city’s charter because the land and buildings were not put out to formal sale.
A temporary restraining order intended to stop the sale from proceeding was filed by Gholson and Bradbury, through their attorney, Kristin Collins of Belfast, on Oct. 19. It was denied in Washington County Superior Court on Oct. 28.
Collins said both the city and CPM Constructors have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit but that action has not been ruled on yet.
Collins said at the heart of the matter is the method the city council used to inform the public that the property was for sale. “The charter for the city of Eastport’s council orders that it advertise for sale any city-owned property,” Collins said Friday.
She said the city maintains that because the issue was discussed at several city council meetings and written about in local and statewide newspapers, the public had many opportunities to understand that it was for sale. “But they never formally advertised in a newspaper and asked for offers,” she said. Collins said the council’s attorney, Dennis Mahar of Calais, has indicated that the council’s charter only applies to tax-acquired property.
Collins said that the charter does not specifically single out tax-acquired property. Mahar did not return a request for information this past week.
Bradbury declined to speak about the suit but Gholson said that the property’s sale will “essentially affect every taxpayer in town. We will never be able to replace what we are selling off. In one year’s time, the public will have no access to the land or the boat ramp.
“Also, a very large point here is that it is critical for the public to retain access there,” he said. “This sale just does not make sense to me.”
Gholson said he has had wide support throughout the community as people review the selling price and the access issue. “It seems ridiculous to me that private citizens have to spend thousands of dollars to fight the city council who are not spending a dime of their own money,’’ he said. “But we are not giving up. We think we have a perfectly valid viewpoint.”
The original closing date on the sale was Oct. 28, but that was extended to Nov. 28. Eastport City Manager Jon Southern did not return telephone calls seeking confirmation that the closing will be held then.