County tells fireboat Fire Fighter it’s time to leave

11/28/2013 5:00 PM |
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Suffolk County officials have asked the fireboat Fire Fighter museum to leave the railroad dock in Greenport.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Suffolk County officials have asked the fireboat Fire Fighter museum to leave the railroad dock in Greenport.

When the fireboat Fire Fighter docked in Greenport this past February it was hoped that it could become a permanent fixture in the maritime community — a floating museum where youngsters could learn about the vessel’s rich history battling fires in New York City.

But less than 10 months later, the former FDNY ship appears headed back toward New York City.

The Village of Greenport received a letter from the county attorney’s office late last month stating that the decommissioned fireboat turned nonprofit museum would need to vacate the railroad dock within three weeks, or the county would take further action.

Suffolk County officials say they are now pursuing “all means available” to remove the ship from its mooring at the county-owned railroad dock. The ultimatum comes several months after a group of local fishermen and other village residents complained to village officials that the railroad dock is intended exclusively for commercial fishing purposes and therefore should not host Fire Fighter.

With time running out to remove the boat from the railroad dock, Fire Fighter museum president Charlie Ritchie is scrambling to find another deepwater dock to moor the 134-foot vessel.

“We were looking to private mooring in Sterling Harbor, but it doesn’t look like that is going to work,” he said. “Now we’re looking closer to New York City. We just know we have to get out as soon as possible.”

Mr. Ritchie said the move alone could cost the nonprofit more than $800 in fuel costs and would set back the restoration of the ship.

The Greenport Village Board had voted to move the historic boat to the railroad dock when the contract to dock the vessel at Mitchell Park Marina expired in June. But in its letter last month, the county said it never signed off on the move.

County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said the presence of the boat at the railroad dock has created a potential liability for the county.

“If it damages the dock it’s hard to say what would happen,” Mr. Krupski said. “If it sinks, it could damage the oyster beds there. The dock was intended to be used by commercial fishermen and they could be displaced with the fireboat there.”

While the Village of Greenport leases the railroad dock from the county for a token fee of $1 per year, the county has the right to refuse any sublease agreement the village enters into regarding the dock.

Greenport Mayor David Nyce told the public in June that he wanted the village to end the lease agreement for the dock — saying it has caused nothing but “headaches.”

The village began renting the dock in 1982 in hopes of enticing additional fishing boats to tie up there. Instead, Mr. Nyce said, the dock has become a “liability” for the village and hasn’t produced a significant revenue stream.

Village administrator David Abatelli said that although three weeks have passed since the county informed the village of the need to move the boat, there’s not much that can be done to take immediate action.

“All the county said was they were going to take further action,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to come with a tug boat to move it.”

Suffolk County attorney Dennis Brown said Monday that he can’t comment on the matter, nor could he say what action the county might take to move the fireboat.

Mr. Ritchie said his priority now is to continue to work with the village and the county to come to an amicable solution.

“It’s a shame; we thought we’d have a long relationship with the village,” Mr. Ritchie said. “The board, the village administrator and the mayor have all been good to us. And I can honestly say not one of our visitors has ever said a negative thing about the boat.”

Fire Fighter was christened in 1938 and was used to fight fires along the New York City waterfront for more than 70 years before being retired in 2010.

The vessel spent two years at the Brooklyn Navy Yard before being transferred to the museum in October 2012. It’s the third-oldest fireboat in the country and the fifth oldest in the world, according to the museum.

cmurray@timesreview.com

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