Boat’s Removal Ends Decades-Long Dispute In Hampton Bays

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After 34 years, 10 lawsuits, thousands in demolition costs and hundreds in legal fees, the Southampton Town Trustees wrote the final chapter of its long and storied battle with a Hampton Bays lobsterman last week, as the last of Jim Flaherty’s three boats was removed from Smith’s Creek.

The Stacy Lyn—a rusted, green, half-submerged fishing boat that had been resting on the bottom of Smith’s Creek since 2011—was torn apart last Tuesday, June 16, and its pieces were hauled away by South Shore Docks of Quogue.

The boat was the last of a small fleet of derelict boats owned by Mr. Flaherty and removed because of pressure from the town. It was a nuisance to the Town Trustees, an eyesore to some who live nearby and, at times, an environmental hazard.

The boat also was a muse for artists, a landmark for nearby businesses, and a conversation piece for neighbors, inspiring gossip and developing its own folklore—one centered on its elusive, recalcitrant owner and his quest to fight Town Hall.

“People were always asking questions about it, but nobody really knew what was going on,” said Tom Pliszak, a mechanic at nearby Hampton Boat Works. “It was like the mystery of Hampton Bays.”

Mr. Flaherty, who is now in his late 60s and has been hospitalized for the past few years, according to friends and acquaintances, has a history of keeping derelict boats in Smith’s Creek dating back to December 1981, according to Southampton Town Trustee records.

He still owns a small lot on the northwest corner of the creek, which fronts on the intersection of Rampasture and Springville roads. The property is home to a small, green cottage, concealed by trees and overgrown shrubbery, and adorned with a sign reading: “Cottage to Rent.”

Mr. Flaherty kept his three boats tied to the bulkhead at the end of his property: the Stacy Lyn and another fishing boat called the Shannon Kathleen, as well as a houseboat called the Aquarian Epicure that was given to him by Bill Swann, the former owner of what is now Dockers Waterside Marina and Restaurant in East Quogue. Mr. Flaherty registered the houseboat as a fishing support vessel.

“It was basically a barge with a two-story building on it falling into disrepair,” Trustee Eric Shultz said.

Despite citations issued by bay constables and court orders telling him to remove his boats, Mr. Flaherty at times took drastic measures to prevent the vessels from being taken. In October 2003, Mr. Flaherty went so far as to hurl himself below the jaws of a crane that had already begun dismantling the Shannon Kathleen and threatened to shoot a bay constable and several Town Trustees who were present. He was arrested for obstruction.

He has sued the Trustees as a group 10 times and he has filed lawsuits against individual board members. Once, in the 1980s, he traipsed through Town Hall wearing chum-filled boots, making a foul-smelling mess in protest. “It was just his nature to be confrontational,” Trustee Ed Warner Jr. said. “He was a little bit of a character.”

In total, the Trustees spent about $10,000 removing the two boats in 2003, according to the board’s records.

Facing possible litigation from the Trustees, Mr. Flaherty’s daughter, Shannon Zucherro of Sag Harbor, elected to pick up the tab on the removal of the Stacy Lyn after speaking with Trustee Scott Horowitz, whom she’s known since childhood. Mr. Warner said the removal cost between $16,000 and $18,000. Ms. Zucherro could not be reached for comment this week.

Tom Wilson of Hampton Bays, a longtime friend of Mr. Flaherty, said his acquaintance’s hesitance was rooted in a persistent desire to rekindle his lobster fishing operation.

“He was one of the best lobstermen around here, and he always had his mind made up that he was going to go back out there,” Mr. Wilson said. “I talked to him like a Dutch uncle about there being no lobsters around, and the boats being shot, and him getting too old—but he didn’t listen.”

Prior to being removed from the creek, the Shannon Kathleen leaked several gallons of diesel fuel when it sank in 2000. To prevent that from repeating when the Stacy Lyn sank, the Trustees had the boat’s fuel tanks removed and its hull sterilized so that it wouldn’t harm the waterway.

Absent an environmental threat, many people who live and work in the area directly around the boat took little issue with it.

“I’ve seen that boat, like, every single day,” said Alex Gamboa, who has a clear view of the creek from the front porch of his Rampasture Road home. “It didn’t really bother me at all.”

Mr. Pliszak said though the boat was often a topic of conversation among visitors, he hardly noticed it. Likewise, his employer, John Ritter, said it didn’t bother him because it was positioned at the end of the creek and therefore posed no obstacle to navigation.

On the contrary, Mr. Ritter said, he often used it as a landmark for road traffic: “Turn left at the sunken boat,” he used to tell customers.

Kelly Coester, whose Rampasture Road home overlooks the creek, said the neighborhood isn’t the same without the sunken vessel.

“I kind of miss it,” Ms. Coester said. “I feel like it created a kind of romantic feeling down there. It had become part of the landscape.”

Other neighbors, including longtime Springville Road resident Maureen DeStephano, were not so infatuated with the derelict boat, She said she was embarrassed to have the Stacy Lyn situated just a few hundred feet from her front door.

“I’m glad it’s gone—it was an eyesore,” she said. “When relatives from western Long Island or the city would come out here, they would always notice it.”

Mr. Warner said he is also glad the boat is gone so he no longer has to field questions and complaints about it.

“It’s 50 less phone calls that I’ll get this year,” he said. “People call, and you have to explain the whole thing—everything is a process. We can finally put that saga behind us.”

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