Black Ghost escapes from lake ice

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

The Black Ghost, a floating café from which boaters and swimmers were served fast food last summer, sits on a trailer on the ice on Thursday. Owner Jeff Pomeroy enlisted the help of friends to remove the Ghost from the ice near the swimming area at Raymond Public Beach & Boat Launch. Last month, the town of Raymond had fined Pomeroy for violating shoreland zoning ordinances and given him until Feb. 28 to remove the structure. (De Busk photo)

RAYMOND — By high noon on Thursday — after three days of head scratching and brute force labor — a local businessman and a half-dozen of his loyal friends removed the Black Ghost from the grip of ice on Sebago Lake’s shoreline.

Already, it had been a feat to jack up and stabilize the four corners of the seasonal restaurant built on pontoons.

The tribulations did not end with the floating café safely on a trailer and headed to its destination a few hundred feet down Route 302, according to owner Jeff Pomeroy.

Instead, when the trailer was pulled up toward the parking lot of the Raymond Public Beach & Boat Launch, the heavy load shifted, and the trailer broke in half. Another three days were dedicated to leveling the Black Ghost and loading it onto a second trailer.

On Sunday night, the Ghost resided in the parking lot of Sunset Variety. A ‘For Sale’ sign hung in the window. Its for sale status is listed in Uncle Henry’s classified advertisements, and all the kitchen appliances for the fast food operation are included, Pomeroy said.

The business deal, in which the town had subleased beach property to Pomeroy, had come to an end.

Last year, the Raymond resident was awarded the bid to operate the food service business at the town’s beach. The arrangement provided a policing presence that elected officials here had hoped would deter littering and illegal partying.

The Town of Raymond Code Enforcement Officer had given Pomeroy until Feb. 28 to remove the Black Ghost and the floating docks from the public property. According to the official letter, the town would assume ownership of any structures still remaining after that date.

Pomeroy likened the situation to one business partner fining the other business partner $100 a day until a stack of boxes were removed from the office.

“You don’t fine your business partner,” he said.

According to Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) Assistant Danielle Loring, the fines stem from violations of the shoreland zoning ordinances — state and local environmental laws that apply to everyone, with no exceptions.

“We have to be consistent,” Loring said, “because the shoreland zone is such a touchy subject to begin. If we let Mr. Pomeroy keep the structure in the ice, then someone else on the lake would complain.”

“People cannot even have a tree house within the shoreland zone,” she said.

Although Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials were aware of the violation and had ruled that the Black Ghost was a structure rather than a boat, it became the town’s responsibility to issue the violation notice and follow through with making certain the situation was remedied, Loring said.

Therefore, the violation notice was issued by the town’s code enforcement officer, she said.

Pomeroy questioned why the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) had not stepped in since the water was under that agency’s jurisdiction. If IFW representatives were not worried, then why was Raymond’s CEO making such big waves, Pomeroy asked.

The town was pressuring him with an exact deadline as well as exorbitant fines that accrued daily, he said.

“We gave him a lot of leniency. We knew he was having issues with getting it out” of the ice, Loring said.

Dec. 1 was the original date for the Black Ghost to be removed; and that date was stated on the contract between Pomeroy and the town, she said. The Raymond Board of Selectmen extended that deadline by three weeks; and, the Code Enforcement Officer’s timeline provided Pomeroy with two months more than the selectmen’s deadline, Loring said.

According to Pomeroy, the Black Ghost is registered as a boat, and should have been allowed to be moored in Big Sebago Lake.

But, the code enforcement office doesn’t agree with Pomeroy’s assessment that the Black Ghost is a boat.

In fact, the DEP determined the Ghost was a structure, rather than a water-worthy vessel, according to Loring.

However, even if the floating café was defined as a boat, it could not be moored where it was, she said.

“Yes, it is a public access. But, no, he couldn’t moor it because he doesn‘t have rights to the beach frontage,” Loring said.

The Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) granted to the town a 30-year lease of the easement to the beach. The MDOT and IFW lease the acreage to Raymond, and the town sublet it to Pomeroy from May through September.

Another major source of frustration for Pomeroy are the fines that will be difficult to pay, especially during the slowdown in the carpentry field in which he has worked.

Whether or not the fines are forgiven is something the selectmen will decide, Loring said.

“At this point, we are trying to regroup and decide what we are going to do with the public beach in the future. That’s a decision for the board of selectmen,” she said.

It is the future of Raymond’s public beach that still concerns Pomeroy. Without someone on site during the summer season, the closure of the beach might be imminent, he said.

“Last summer, the beach was closed for one day — because of the bacteria count,” said Pomeroy, recalling the months-long closures in 2010.

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