Old Greenwich Resident Taking Harbor Master, Shell Fisherman to Court

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At the July 15 meeting of the Harbor Management Commission Frank Mazza announced that a resident of Binney Lane is suing four people including a shell fisherman and Ian MacMillan, the Greenwich Harbor Master. Credit: Leslie Yager

At Wednesday’s Harbor Management Commission meeting Frank Mazza dropped a depth charge.

Mazza announced that a resident of Binney Lane is suing four people including a shell fisherman and Ian MacMillan, the Greenwich Harbor Master. Mr. Mazza said he’d gotten an email from the Town Attorney’s office alerting him to the law suit.

Mr. MacMillan, recently reappointed state harbor master for Greenwich by Governor Malloy, will be represented by the State’s attorney general office.

“I just want everyone to know there is a lawsuit,” Mr. Mazza said, adding that it was not to be discussed at the meeting.

Specifically, Karen Sadik-Khan is suing Greenwich Harbor Master Ian MacMillan, Stamford Harbor Master Eric Knott, Shellfisherman Robert E Griffith and Ellen Woefel.

The longtime Binney Lane resident whose house abuts the water, Karen Sadik-Khan claims she has had a mooring in place since 1974.

Sadik-Khan is being represented by James Fogarty of Fogarty Cohen Selby & Nemiroff, LLC.

The history the disagreement between Sadik-Khan and Griffith goes back many years. In over  2011 Ellen Woefel divorced Chris Ford who had been a shellfisherman since 1996 in Greenwich and Stamford. Mr. Ford, who had been shellfishing in Long Island Sound since the mid 90s, was named in four quit claim deeds totaling about 155 acres of shellfish beds.

In 2006 Mr. Ford sold to the rights to cultivate and harvest the shellfish beds to Mr. Griffth.  Mr. Griffith agreed to pay Mr. Ford 10% of his gross profits.

After Mr. Ford’s divorce from Ellen Woefel, she was to get the 10% profits from Mr. Griffith, who began shellfishing in Long Island Sound around 2008. Ms. Woefel, the owner of the shellfish beds has been paying taxes on them.

Mr. Griffith, according to Ms. Sadik-Khan’s law suit, claimed to her and her neighbors that the two Harbor Masters have the right to grant or withhold moorings based on General Statutes 26-157a, Lobster Management Program:

“No person shall set, tend or assist in setting or tending any lobster pot, trap or similar device for the catching of lobsters or set any mooring on any oyster bed, without the permission of the owner or lessee of such bed.”

In other words, the Harbor Masters agreed with Mr. Griffith that no mooring is allowed in any shellfish bed without permission of the authorized shellfisherman.

Mrs. Sadik-Khan claims she possessed certain exclusive littoral rights and privileges on the waters and submerged land extending seaward along the easterly boundary of her property at 41 Binney Lane.  She also argues that the Statute relied on by the defendants, which she claims is criminal in nature, did not legally exist until June 1986, long after her mooring was installed in the 1970s.

An important question is whether Mrs. Sadik-Khan is entitled to keep her mooring based on the argument that it predated the 1986 statute (Public Act No 86-403, 61 and 132).

Another question is whether the mooring was ever permitted in the first place?

The Greenwich Harbor master has said repeatedly at HMC meetings that there are many moorings in Greenwich waters that have never been permitted.

“I advise the Board of Selectmen that vendors often deploy moorings and commission them without permits or notification to the Harbor Master or the HMC,” MacMillan complained on Wednesday night.

That said, Mrs. Sadik-Khan argues that both Harbor Masters have declined to issue her a mooring permit in that area.

Sadik-Khan argues that the statute the defendants rely upon must be reconciled with General statutes 26-249:

Each person who plants or cultivates oysters, clams or mussels, in any place lawfully designated, shall own them and also all other oysters, clams or mussels on such place, and have the exclusive right to taking up and disposing of them and using such place for the purpose of planting or cultivating oysters, clams or mussels therein, which place shall be transferable by written assignment, but nothing herein contained shall affect the rights of any such owner of lands…which may be opposite or contiguous to such navigable waters…

Mrs. Sakik-Khan argues in her law suit that her littoral rights are superior to any rights of the defendants Griffith and Woefel.

She seeks damages in excess of $15,000 exclusive of interest and costs inclusive of punitive damages.

The defendants are due in court in Stamford Superior Court on August 3. On that date the Court will conduct a status/settlement conference and not take evidence.

See also:

Greenwich Harbor Master’s Report: Shrinking Harbors, Fewer Moorings


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