News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, November 23, 2022
Brooksville public meeting part of yearslong lawsuit
Issues are ongoing between Buck’s Harbor Marine and harbormaster

by Maggie White

“It’s just a statutorily required meeting. The harbormaster had an enforcement action against Jon Buck and Buck’s Harbor Marina, Inc. from August 2022. Jon Buck appealed that and this is the ordinance appeal hearing,” said chair Mark Shaughnessy about an upcoming Brooksville Harbor Committee public meeting. The meeting, which is to take place on Friday, December 2, at 7 p.m. at the Brooksville Town Office, is a by-product of a yearslong lawsuit in the case of Jonathan E. Buck v. Town of Brooksville. The suit originated from a difference of opinion regarding a mooring incident that occurred in August 2020.

Backstory in brief

In pages of court documents provided by the plaintiff (Jonathan E. Buck), the August 4, 2020 incident involved a decision by Jon Buck to tether a boat to one of his marina’s moorings in advance of a coming storm. That vessel was determined to be too big for the mooring by the harbormaster, Debrae Bishop.

A dragged mooring and alleged damage to another vessel and dock ramp resulted in the Harbor Committee reexamining Buck’s mooring inspector status and the reissuing of standards for each of the 35 moorings owned by Buck’s Harbor Marina, Inc.—standards that remain “disputed” and that have been central to the case.

Legal fees

“We’ve spent substantial fees,” said Shaughnessy about the attorney costs incurred by the town of Brooksville and the Harbor Committee from the ongoing litigation. “All the cases that were in court were filed by Mr. Buck. None of the cases were filed by the town,” said Shaughnessy.

As for funding, according to an email sent by Gayle Clifford from the Town of Brooksville Selectman’s Office, the total attorney fees incurred since 2020 are $90,390. “Initially, all of the costs were coming from the Harbor Coastal Waters account. In 2021, they asked the Town to pick up some of the costs. Since that time the costs have been shared,” said Clifford.

This fund sourcing information was confirmed by John Gray, chair of Brooksville select board, who said, “We raise it in our legal expenses. The Harbor Committee has paid some in the past. So, some from Harbor Committee funds plus the legal fund. And we did get $5,000 from our insurance company.”

On the other side of the equation, legal fees have also been racking up since 2020. In a press release dated November 18, 2022, Buck shared the amounts he’s incurred from two law firms. “I have already paid one firm $26,000 and most recently a very large law firm in Portland, Maine, over $68,000. The total amount of financial outlay of $94,000 has been paid to date to protect myself and my marina from prejudicial behavior by the Town of Brooksville against my Marina operation which is in essence providing a very significant public service,” said Buck in the release.

Also stated in the release was Buck’s decision to forego legal counsel and to represent himself moving forward.

Intent to be fair, and safe

“The committee sits as an appeal court…we’re just enforcing the ordinance,” said Shaughnessy, who added that the objective of the meeting is therefore to hear both sides and to decide whether action taken on the side of the harbormaster was appropriate or not.

According to a public notice issued by Shaugnessy, “members of the public may file written comments on the matter with the Town Clerk prior to the meeting,” while parties to the appeal have an earlier deadline in order to assure sufficent time for response arguments.

The meeting itself could run long. “We had a similar hearing on a very similar subject this time last year and it lasted 2-1/2 hours,” said Shaughnessy, who confirmed that the same parties were involved.

“It has been contentious, yes,” said Shaugnessy. To that end, Gray said that a deputy sheriff will be on hand at the meeting “just to be safe.”