Charlestown boat owners, who fear eviction from a marina that has fallen into disrepair, were granted a small victory Monday when a Suffolk County judge said their boats could stay until at least early September.
The Monday hearing was the latest in a three-year legal battle between the state and Martin Oliner, the owner of the marina, over the decaying piers of Shipyard Quarters Marina, home to 112 boats, including about 30 houseboats.
“So much is out of our control at this point,” said Michael Sullivan, 36, who has lived on a houseboat in the marina for six years. “But it’s very reassuring to have a judge who listens to our side.”
Attorney General Martha Coakley sought an injunction earlier this month that asked Oliner to submit plans to fix the pier, which has collapsing beams and rusted steel pilings. In response, Oliner sent letters to boat owners last Tuesday ordering them to vacate piers 6 and 8. The boats had to go, he said, because the only way to fix the pier was to take it apart and reconstruct it.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Fahey halted the eviction Thursday, providing temporary relief to owners, many of whom have said they had trouble finding alternative locations to dock their boats.
Houseboat residents, in particular, have said that most marinas are unwilling to take larger boats this late in the summer. Seth Schofield, assistant attorney general, has said in past hearings that boat owners should be given until Oct. 31, the end of the boating season, to move.
At the hearing Monday, Schofield contested whether the marina really needs to shut down. He said Oliner had not conducted a thorough inspection of the piers and suggested there might be safe areas amid the decay for boats to stay through the season. Fahey asked for a detailed inspection report by the next hearing, to be held in early September.
About two dozen boat owners sat through Monday’s hearing, which was also attended by Oliner, a New York tax attorney. In an interview after the hearing, Oliner said he does not want to close the marina, though he feels that doing so is necessary to comply with the injunction.
“We are trying to do the right thing, to replace the marina in its entirety,” he said. “It's against our economic interest to close the marina, but we want to redo it, then reopen it and give preference to existing boat owners to return.”
Oliner and his lawyers said they would prorate docking fees and cover costs to move the boats.
But boat owners are wary of trusting Oliner, who they say allowed the marina to decay over the last several years. Instead of spending money to fix the structure, they say, Oliner is forcing boat owners to bear the consequence of his neglect.
“My children grew up in the marina, and we’ve watched it deteriorate as the years go on,” said Arthur Dello Russo, 65, who has docked six boats in the marina over 23 years. “Now, our grandchildren enjoy it, and we’ve still watched him do nothing about it.”
As Oliner exited the courtroom, several boat owners booed and called him a liar.
“This is the closest I've been to him in six years,” said Jim Shattuck, 42, another houseboat resident. “We're in this situation because of him. If we have to leave, I’m still not sure where I’ll go.”