Viking to Dock at Gann? Baymen Say No

The Viking Fleet wants space at the town commercial dock at Gann Road on Three Mile Harbor to take passengers out for day trips on a 60-foot fishing boat. Morgan McGivern

    Montauk’s Viking Fleet has its eye on Three Mile Harbor as a fishing site, and has asked for permission to dock a 60-foot boat at the East Hampton Town dock there, to take passengers out for daily fishing trips during the springtime months.
    The proposal was first submitted to the town board last fall and was renewed some weeks ago, with hopes that the boat could run out of the Gann Road dock in April, May, and June.
    At a town board meeting on April 2, Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc outlined the issues for the board. Carl Forsberg Jr., a Viking captain, was on hand.
    The slips at the town dock have been set aside for the use of commercial fishermen, and the town charges a low, “extremely subsidized fee” for dockage at Gann Road, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, “as a way for the town to support our commercial fishermen in an industry that is highly regulated and that’s having a number of economic issues — to keep the traditional fishing business going in the Town of East Hampton.”
    One issue, he said, is whether there’s enough parking at the site to accommodate fishermen’s boats and trailers, equipment, and cars belonging to members of the public who like to fish from the dock, as well as the Viking boat’s passengers.
    Another question, said the councilman, should the board wish to open the dock as requested, is “whether or not this is advertised as being available for all the charter captains in the town, and how you would do that.”
    “If this takes off, then next year we should probably allow it to be bid out in some way,” said Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson.
    Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said Viking should be allowed to do business from the dock. “Because I do support business across the board; I don’t pick and choose,” she said.
    As far as allowing a “head boat”  — where passengers pay to go on board and fish — at the commercial dock, “commercial” fishing, Mr. Wilkinson suggested, could include “anyone who’s in the business of making money.”
    But at a town board meeting in Montauk on Tuesday, Brad Loewen, the president of the East Hampton Town Baymen’s Association, told board members the dock was given to the town in 1930 by a member of the Gardiner family with the stipulation that it be reserved for use by commercial fishermen such as those there at present: three trap fishermen, two lobstermen, four draggers, and one conch fisherman, “all earning their living off that dock.”
    In addition, he said, the Marine Patrol office is there, and the town barge, and equipment for the town shellfish hatchery. Other users include recreational fishermen and “romantics, if you will,” who visit to look out at the water or the sunset, Mr. Loewen said. All, he said, have “kind of reached an equilibrium. Nobody gets in anybody’s way. Our concern is, this is a change of use, and an increase of use, that will change that equilibrium.”
    Should the Viking boat also use the dock, he said, “somebody’s going to get evicted. There simply is not enough room for that kind of business.”
    A number of fishermen have contacted him, he said, to express concerns about the proposal. Mr. Loewen asked the board not to give space to the Viking boat at the commercial dock, but if the proposal is to be entertained, he asked that it be subject to a site plan review by the town planning board.
    Through that process, he said, a number of issues could be addressed: parking, including required handicapped-accessible  spots; adequate lighting, fire protection, traffic control, noise, and boat-fueling. In addition, he said, the board should ascertain that the Three Mile Harbor channel, which has been dredged but may have since shoaled, is adequate for the draft of the Viking vessel. “It may not be,” he said.
     Mr. Loewen also questioned the Viking Fleet’s assertion that the charter boat, while licensed for 75 passengers, would carry only 20 people on trips from Three Mile Harbor. “I believe that all of these questions may be answered by site plan review,” he said. “Again, I want to remind the board that it’s a commercial dock, and our concern is, those who would be evicted would be us.”
    “This isn’t right,” he said, his voice straining. “I shouldn’t be here talking about this. What’s wrong with you guys?”
    “Please reconsider any change down there that is going to affect the ability of the fishermen and other users.”
    The town’s fisheries advisory committee has not yet weighed in on the proposal.
    At a board meeting last Thursday, Ira Barocas, president of a community group of residents in the neighborhood of the dock and a former charter and party boat captain, urged the town board to get a fair price should it decide to lease space to Viking. “Gann Road dock is a town asset,” he said. “It doesn’t seem appropriate, as a taxpayer, to give a sweetheart deal to a business operating on town property. Commercial entities who use our town assets ought to pay a fair price.”
     “It’s not a bad thing at all,” he said of the proposal, “but if it turns out to be a viable thing, we ought to be compensated fairly, and by we, I mean the taxpayers.”
    Asked to research the history of the dock and any restrictions on its use, John Jilnicki, the town attorney, reported that he had found a 1943 deed from the Bank of New York to the town, which contains only a property description. A copy of a 1931 deed held by the town assessor is unreadable, he said, and a better copy must be obtained from the county clerk.