MOUNT DESERT — Members of the Otter Creek Aid Society agreed last week to install a combination lock on the door of the fish shack they own on Otter Cove — with only those members who use it to be given the combination — and to post a sign saying it can only be used from dawn until dusk.
That is an attempt to keep anyone from living there in violation of plumbing and life safety codes.
The 22-by-22-foot shack, which is down a steep hill from the Acadia National Park Loop Road, is completely surrounded by park property. It is intended to be used for storing fishing gear and supplies.
“When it was observed that there was a car (on the shoulder of the Loop Road) for many, many nights, in fact since the end of May, it came to the park’s attention that maybe somebody was living there,” Aid Society President John Macauley told the members at their meeting last Wednesday.
Park officials notified Mount Desert Code Enforcement Officer Kim Keene, who asked Macauley for permission to enter and inspect the building. When she did, she took pictures that showed a propane cook stove next to a wood stove, a food storage area, a bed and dresser and clothing on hangers.
“It’s starting to sound a lot like a residence,” Macauley said.
“Furthermore, a sign on the side of the building said, ‘Out in boat. Yell at me. I’ll come in for lobster.’”
He said another sign at the side of the Loop Road read, “Fresh lobster down over hill.”
“We’re not allowed to sell lobster out of our fish house lot; that can’t happen,” Macauley said.
Keene wrote in an official notice of violation to Macauley that the Aid Society’s failure to prevent the fish shack from being used as a residence could result in legal action and fines of $100 to $2,500 a day.
“So, what we have to do is show good faith toward securing that property,” Macauley said at the Aid Society meeting. “Our focus needs to be on making the town happy and making sure we’re not in violation of anything.
“The fish house is very clearly out of code. It’s not safe. It’s just, for lack of a better word, illegal.”
Macauley and others said there used to be several fish shacks on the shores of Otter Cove, but none of them were lived in.
“The fish houses were a place to store bait,” said long-time resident Hillard Walls. “They might have had a little bench in them.”
When someone suggested that the fish shacks had wood stoves, Walls said, “Most of them didn’t.”
The 25 Aid Society members at the meeting voted unanimously to authorize Macauley, who also is the organization’s treasurer, to buy a lockbox to secure the fish shack and to post signs saying it is to be used only during daylight hours.
Vivien Igras, a relatively new Otter Creek resident, said she understands that heating and cooking in the fish shack, which has no running water, represents a serious fire hazard.
“In the summer, when it’s dry, that would be a very big problem,” she said.
Macauley agreed, saying, “There’s so much duff and deadfall out there that it would go pretty fast.”
As for the Aid Society’s potential liability, he said, “We have a certain amount of indemnity as a volunteer organization. But if we just ignored our code enforcement officer and there was a fire there with property damage or loss of life, we would cease to exist.”
Macauley said that, four or five years ago, it seemed that a lot of people were talking about how much they loved hanging out at the fish shack.
“I have heard nothing in the last two years or more that suggests that anybody is comfortable going down there and hanging out,” he said.
Aid Society Secretary Kendall Davis agreed that it is no longer appealing.
“Whenever I’ve gone down there, I feel like I’m entering somebody else’s house because of all the things shown in (the code enforcement officer’s) pictures,” he said. “It’s an uneasy feeling.”
But long-time resident Karen Zimmerman disagreed with the notion that few people want to go to the fish shack anymore.
“We do still go there,” she said. “I think it’s really important to the community. I think destroying it or getting rid of it would be like the kiss of death to this village.
“We should make every effort to make it useable by the village,” Zimmerman continued. “When the grandkids come, we go down there and bring our toast and coffee and sit and tell them stories about what it was like… It’s not something we want to lose.”
“But it is something we will lose unless we’re better shepherds of it,” Macauley said. “If it continues to be an impossible liability to the Society and people continue to live in it, we’re not going to have a choice.”