Merchant Marine Alumni Refuse to Ship Out

BROOKLYN (CN) – Alumni of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy are fighting eviction from their longtime home in Kings Point, Long Island, in Federal Court.
     The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association and Foundation sued the Merchant Marine Academy, its new Superintendent James Helis, its Administrator David Matsuda and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Roy LaHood, who have demanded that the plaintiffs vacate by June 30.
     The Merchant Marine, a fleet of civilian-owned merchant vessels, transports cargo and passengers during peacetime, and can be dispatched to deliver troops and supplies to the military during war.
     In 1943, the Academy opened in its Kings Point, N.Y. home, and its alumni association and foundation has operated rent-free from offices there since 1957, according to the complaint.
     The U.S. Marine Administration cemented the relationship in a 2004 agreement, which called the cost of the office space “insignificant” compared to the benefits of the foundation, the alumni say in the complaint.
     “In a shocking reversal of over fifty (50) years of history between the Foundation and the Academy, on November 30, 2012, (a mere four months into his new position) Helis asserted that the Foundation needed to remove itself from the Academy campus on or before June 30, 2013. …
     “As of three weeks ago, Helis moved up the improper June 30, 2013 vacate date and sent a mere letter to the Foundation advising that the Foundation is no longer wanted on Academy grounds and if the Foundation does not remove all property off Academy campus by April 30, 2013, it will take self-help measures to secure the premises which the Foundation is presently occupying on the Academy campus,” the complaint states.
     A reply memorandum by Assistant U.S. Attorney Vincent Lipari, claims the eviction is justified by a memorandum of 1980, which described the free-space arrangement as “revocable.”
     The memo reproduces a letter by Helis stating that times have changed for the Academy – and its budget.
     “For example, the Academy is renovating its academic and administrative buildings and expanding its curricula offerings,” Helis wrote, according to the memo. “We need all available on-campus space. In addition the federal government faces significant fiscal hurdles and cannot continue subsidizing the activities of a private organization on the Academy campus. Finally, I consulted with Counsel to the Academy who concurs in my assessment of the situation and noted that even the 1980 memorandum merely acknowledges that the Academy may permit the use of its property without charge; it does not state that the Academy is required to do so.”
     But the alumni say they were not given a hearing, and have nowhere left to go.
     At first, Helis offered them the space for nearly $2 million, “which was obviously rejected, as it is a large percentage of what the foundation raises in donations a year,” the complaint states.
     Helis then retracted his offer and said the space worth 10 times that amount, the alumni say.
     They claim that the eviction, and how it has been carried out, violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the U.S. Code and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
     The alumni want to keep their office space and get reimbursed for the costs of litigation.
     They are represented by Ryan Mitola, with Schneider Mitola.

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