LOCKPORT — A raft of lawsuits and countersuits raised by the sinking of a canal boat construction project floated away this week.
Would-be packet boat builder Michael Weekes of Buffalo withdrew his monetary claim against the City of Lockport on Tuesday, and settled disputes with volunteers Doug Farley and Jay C. Krull on Thursday. Krull agreed to drop two cash claims against Weekes in exchange for Weekes writing a note of apology to the community.
Weekes and the volunteers were suing one another for $5,000 compensation, the most anyone can try to recover in Small Claims Court, after a plan they hatched to construct and launch a wooden boat in Lockport fell apart late last year. The not-for-profit Dale Association, and the city, got caught up in the legal drama.
Last month, Weekes sued the Dale, the city, Farley through the Niagara County Historical Society and Krull through his wife's business, to recoup his claimed investment in a project to build “Pride of the Erie Canal” and launch it in the canal here.
The project, announced with some fanfare at the Historical Society's Erie Canal Discovery Center this past November, would have Weekes building his boat at 20 Lock St., Dale Association property, over the winter with help from volunteers. Weekes would fund the estimated $40,000 construction tab out of his pocket, and the boat would be his personal property upon completion, he said, but in exchange for the community's patronage — meaning gifts of work space, skilled labor, cash and/or publicity — he'd make Lockport the boat's home base and "share" it with the community at canal-linked festivals and special events
There never was anything in writing between Weekes and the organizations offering him support, however, and the informal partnership fell apart after Krull, a community event organizer, told the others he was quitting over Weekes' failure to answer questions about his background, finances or what "sharing" a boat actually meant.
In January, after Weekes racked up $1,500 in utility-related bills at 20 Lock St., and refused to pay them, Dale Association management asked Weekes to vacate the building — and take his 800-pound, partially built boat with him.
Thus the project was dead, and anyone who'd talked with Weekes about ways they or their organization might help advance it, including Mayor Michael Tucker on the city's behalf, was soon to be sued by the despairing developer. All but the city ended up suing Weekes in kind.
The Dale Association countered by seeking an eviction order against Weekes. Both withdrew their claims against the other in mid-April, after Weekes agreed to get his property out of the warehouse by May 17. He's been removing the boat — in pieces — this week, he told the US&J on Thursday.
"It's taken me a couple of months to get through the grieving process. Cutting up (the boat) was the hard part," he said.
The Niagara County Historical Society, Krull and his wife Therese Krull all countersued Weekes for $5,000 a piece. In the historical society's case, that's the value of employee Farley's time, and ECDC office resources, given to Weekes while the project was underway, according to historical society Director Melissa Dunlap.
The Krulls sued Weekes to recover "a waste of time," Jay Krull said after court Thursday.
Weekes erred when he filed a small claim against Jay Krull doing business as KAX Solutions. Therese Krull owns that business, and neither she, nor the business, was involved with the boat building project, Jay Krull said.
Weekes acknowledged the error, grudgingly, after court. KAX Solutions and Boost Training & Support are "partner" enterprises in publishing and marketing, according to the KAX website. While only the latter business is owned by Jay Krull, his name is well associated with both, Weekes said.
Weekes proposed to the Krulls that they all withdraw their claims because he feared being nailed for his "technical" mistake, he said somewhat bitterly.
"I calculated I had more to lose by not withdrawing my claim. Not only would I likely have lost on a technicality, but Jay and Therese Krull could have gotten their claims awarded," he said. "It was quite creative on their part to turn a $5,000 claim into a $10,000 revenue opportunity."
Weekes isn't the only angry litigant in this story. Jay Krull consented to withdrawing his and his wife's counterclaims only after Weekes agreed to write a letter of apology "to the community" for his part in the collapse of the boat building project.
Krull said he wanted a statement from Weekes on the public record, to serve as a warning to others whom Weekes might approach in the future.
"My real goal is to ensure (Weekes) doesn't do this to another community: come in, misrepresent himself and take advantage of the generosity of volunteers," Krull said. "I pushed (litigation) this far to make a point."
Weekes did not read his letter aloud in court, he merely filed it with the court clerk afterward. Appearing hastily handwritten and consisting of one sentence, it reads:
"I wish to acknowledge that there were miscommunication (sic) and apologize for any inconvenience I may have caused the community."
"What an apology," Krull scoffed.
Weekes said he's in talks with several property owners in the City of Buffalo, who have links to maritime or wooden boat groups, about hosting a new packet boat building project this summer.