City Halts Slavit Riverboat Plan After Harbor Commission Raises Concern and Member Resigns

From left, Harbor Commission Chairman Sam Amari and Commissioners Alan Foucault and Commissioner Philip Wysocki. (WHAV News photograph.)

Plans to bring a 400-passenger ship up river are in question today as city officials say moorings brought to the Merrimack Sunday were not authorized and must be removed.

Haverhill Police delivered a letter from Harbormaster Michael Vets to Tim Slavit just before 10, Wednesday night, ordering removal of two mooring blocks at Chase’s Wharf by end of day Friday. The order follows a heated exchange at a Haverhill Harbor Commission meeting Tuesday night when allegations were raised that shortcuts were taken in preparing for the arrival of the Slavit family’s MS Captain Red.

Harbor Commissioners met this week to hear a request that it provide $8,000 for a gangway leading to the where the ship would be docked off Water Street and possibly a subsidy for seniors and students to board tours. The discussion quickly deteriorated and Slavit, son of late harbormaster William J. “Red” Slavit, and his sons left early.

“This kid has a 100-ton master’s. You can get that from the Coast Guard. You’re going to get a proof of insurance and that’s it. You’re looking for trouble and you came to the right place,” Slavit said.

Commissioner Alan Foucault said the concrete moorings didn’t receive required permission of Harbormaster Michael Vets and no review was requested of the city Conservation Commission. “You want my vote of approval to spend public waterways money on a private charter boat, then I have a right to ask some questions,” he said.

Fallout from the meeting continued to resonate yesterday with Foucault’s resignation. In an email to Mayor James J. Fiorentini, he wrote, “I do not wish to have my name associated with this city process. The last several meetings have been abusive to me, with name calling and insults. I have no tolerance for this behavior left.  Your own lack of participation has indicated a disinterest in our proceedings.”

After receiving the order to remove the moorings, Slavit said he called Fiorentini, but the two were unable to resolve the problem. Slavit told WHAV all of the steps he followed came at the direction of the mayor.

Fiorentini spokesman Shawn Regan, however, told commissioners the mayor had not granted any approvals. “The mayor didn’t okay anything that’s been done. The mayor, just like everyone else, would love to see a river boat and Mr. Slavit seems to the only one willing to do it, so he wanted to give every opportunity,” he said.

Foucault, joined by Harbor Commission Chairman Sam Amari and Commissioner Philip Wysocki, asked that a certificate of inspection, proof of insurance and documentation of the captain be provided. Slavit responded those documents are available from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Members also raised concern the large size of the ship limits options on refueling and solid waste removal, the mooring locations might be too shallow for the ship’s draft, there might be frequent interruptions at the Rocks Village Bridge for openings and the ship’s length might make it impossible to make U-turns in the river. Slavit disputed the assertions and left.

Ralph T. Basiliere, vice chairman of the Conservation Commission, said he is concerned about river sturgeon and asked for guidance from the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. “I don’t know why one would put in moorings of that size before coming to the ConCom. To me, it shows a lack of candor and judgement,” he said.

Basiliere said an order to remove the moorings, if such a decision was made by the harbormaster, might risk more damage than leaving them in the water.

As WHAV first reported earlier, Slavit and his sons took possession of the ship in December when they maneuvered it from Boston Harbor to a temporary winter home in Gloucester. Formerly known as New Boston, the vessel had been used in Boston Harbor by Mass Bay Lines since 1964.

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