VINALHAVEN — The tax assessor for the town of Vinalhaven appealed to the state’s top court on whether the Hurricane Island Foundation should be exempt from the property tax.

The notice of appeal on behalf of the tax assessor was filed March 16 in the Knox County court. The town assessor wants the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to overturn a March 2 decision by Justice Bruce Mallonee who ruled Hurricane Island Foundation was a scientific institution, and therefore exempt from the property tax.

The Foundation offers educational programs on Hurricane Island which is located off Vinalhaven but is part of the municipality.

The town has the Hurricane Island Foundation property assessed at nearly $650,000, with an annual tax bill of about $8,000, according to the town’s website.

The dispute between the town and Hurricane Island Foundation started in 2019 when the organization filed for tax exemption as either a literary or scientific institution. Following a visit to Hurricane Island to check to see if the municipal records matched up with the buildings on the property, the tax assessor rejected in May 2019 the request for tax exempt status.

The Foundation appealed to the court and the two sides have since been in the legal battle.

The Foundation occupies about two-thirds of Hurricane Island with a 40-year lease with Hurricane Island Trust that began in 2010.

The Foundation said its mission is to integrate science education, applied research, and leadership development through year-round educational programs, and “a seasonal environmentally sustainable island community.”

The Foundation argued in court papers filed in Knox County its programs provide 11-in school days of science education to Vinalhaven students each year. In addition, the Foundation provides seven days of on-island education to Vinalhaven students. During the past several years, students from mainland schools have gone out there for outdoor classroom and fieldwork, focusing on marine education.

Island’s history

From 1964-2006 Hurricane Island was a summer base camp for Outward Bound, an outdoor organization that conducted adventure-based courses structured to inspire self-esteem, self-reliance, concern for others, and care for the environment. The organization is known for its sea kayaking, rock climbing, sailing, and pulling boat programs. Outward Bound has since moved its main office to Camden and runs programs stretching from Maine to Florida, with two Maine base camps in Newry and Wheeler’s Bay.

Hurricane Island was a year-round community with granite quarrying as the lifeblood of the community.

According to Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership’s website, “Hurricane Island was a company town, and workers’ pay went directly into an account at the company store. They earned between $1.75 and $2.50 per week. Paving Cutter’s and Quarrymen’s unions were among the first in the nation, and friction with management was constant.”

The peak of quarrying was from 1870 to 1900. The year-round population was estimated at 250 with a school that had 60 students.

Gen. Davis Tillson of Rockland owned the island and, according to the website, “Tillson ruled with an iron hand, and those Yankees who were registered voters were required to vote Republican.”

The last shipment from Hurricane Island, a barge of giant blocks for the Rockport, Mass., breakwater, foundered in heavy seas off Rockland on Nov. 8, 1914, and sank to the bottom of Penobscot Bay.

“Management came out to the island and announced the closing of the town virtually overnight. Tools were left where they dropped. People hastily assembled what belongings they could — some families having lived there almost 50 years — and got on the boat. Town records were packed up and sent to Vinalhaven, and Hurricane Island once again became part of that town. All possible equipment was sold, although some lies rusting on the island still,” the website notes.