The operator of this lobster buying barge has balked at paying increased fees for the use of the town wharf in Seal Cove. FILE PHOTO

Lobster buyer wants cash back

TREMONT — The attorney for a lobster buyer based at the Seal Cove Wharf is demanding the town reimburse his client for the extra $600 he was charged for commercial use of the facility.

Charles Gilbert III, of Gilbert and Greif PA of Bangor, represents Donald Crabtree, who began using the town-owned wharf earlier this year.

Crabtree moors his 45-foot barge in Seal Cove and sells bait to, and buys lobsters from, fishermen after motoring offshore. Crabtree loads and unloads at the Seal Cove Wharf and parks his trucks in the adjacent town-owned parking lot.

In September, selectmen increased the annual fee for commercial use of the Seal Cove facility from $400 to $1,000, a move they justified by the increased pressure on the facility from Crabtree’s business and to bring fees more in line with those at the Bernard Town Wharf.

Crabtree paid the extra $600 only after Harbormaster Justin Seavey on Nov. 2 issued him an order to cease use of the wharf due to nonpayment.

Gilbert, in letters to the town, contends selectmen had no authority to increase the fee.

Town Manager Dana Reed, in a Nov. 6 letter to Crabtree explaining the extra $600 fee, points out that the town’s wharf and facilities ordinance does give selectmen the authority to set commercial fees at Seal Cove. According to the ordinance, “selectmen may enter into agreements or contracts with commercial entities regarding Seal Cove that are financially beneficial to the town.”

Gilbert also contends there are “fundamental differences” between Crabtree’s business and that of lobster buyers using the Bernard Town Wharf. All Crabtree’s “buying activities are conducted offshore” whereas lobster buyers at the Bernard Wharf a “park their trucks on the wharf,” Gilbert states.

“You have no authority under the guise of the wharf ordinance to regulate or even charge him for what he does offshore,” Gilbert writes.

It is unclear where Gilbert gets the impression Crabtree is being charged for what occurs offshore. According to the ordinance, the owners of commercial vessels and all vessels 14 feet or more in length must pay an annual fee to the town for use of the Seal Cove facility.

In addition, the ordinance considers the Bernard Wharf, which is many times busier than Seal Cove, separately. Fee structures reflect those different categories of use. On July 1, annual permits for commercial use of the Bernard Wharf went from $2,500 to $5,000, five times that for Seal Cove.

Gilbert asked Reed to make selectmen “aware that this matter is not going to go away, and Mr. Crabtree is not going to back down, so kindly rescind the illegal charge against him for which there is no basis.”

Reed did make brief mention of the matter to selectmen on Monday, telling them that an attorney from the Maine Municipal Association has advised him not to respond to Gilbert’s letters.

Before his attorney contacted the town, Crabtree sent a letter outlining improvements he claimed needed to be made at Seal Cove to justify the extra $600 he was being charged.

Those improvements included dredging of the area near the wharf, moving moorings to accommodate the 60-foot barge he plans to use to expand his business, installing lights at the facility, installation of a boom lift and designated parking for his trucks.

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander

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