Marion Selectmen deny aquaculture license request

By Tanner Harding | Oct 18, 2016

Marion — The Marion Board of Selectmen denied a request for an aquaculture permit in Planting Island Cove at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The public hearing was a continuance from a July meeting in which resident James Spader, among others, spoke up against the project.

Concerns from residents were mainly about navigation issues and the visual effects of having an oyster farm in the area.

On Tuesday, applicant Shea Doonan and attorney Robert Feingold addressed those issues with a change to the original plan.

“The change proposed is to put these cages on the bottom of the ocean,” Feingold said. “That way the small boats that go through that area won’t have a problem at all.”

In the new plan, the cages would be a maximum of 10 inches off the ground. The cages themselves are about six inches in depth, meaning the project would float, at most, 16 inches from the sea floor and still below water.

“The water there is about three feet at low tide and seven or eight feet at high tide,” Feingold said. “That leaves a lot of water for kayaks and small motorboats.”

The proposed area is not navigable for boats big enough to disrupt the oyster farm.

The design for an oyster farm underwater is uncommon, and some residents were not convinced it would actually work.

“I didn’t realize you could do a submarine farm,” resident Bill Notman said. “Is there any experience with that? Can it be done?”

Doonan told Notman that he worked on a shellfish farm in Maine where he used this type of underwater system and said that, should any problems arise, he would fix them.

“You have to secure the lines very carefully so that things don’t pop up,” Doonan said. “Things won’t be floating to the top, but if a malfunction does happen I’ll fix it right away.”

However, Notman maintained that he doesn’t see a way in which some type of issue wouldn’t come up.

“I can’t see how it won’t create some problem there that wasn’t there before,” he said. “I think it’s a shame to put any man-made construction in that space. To have an open space like that in our harbor means it should be left alone.”

Doonan insisted that he spent time looking for a spot that fit the state’s specifications, and that this was the only place he could find that didn’t have eel grass or a native shellfish population that would prevent him from planting.

“I’m committed that I won’t disturb anyone,” he said. “This new plan actually makes it harder for me. It’s more labor, but I’m willing to do it...”

Selectman Steve Gonsalves said from the beginning that he didn’t think the spot was a good area, and he was not swayed by Doonan.

“There’s nothing convincing me that something isn’t going to happen,” he said.

Assistant Harbormaster and Shellfish Officer Adam Murphy said while he’s not familiar with the submerged cages, he didn’t see why it would be a problem in that area.

“The cages we’d have to police, but we’d be willing to work with him to make sure it’s secured and won’t bust free,” he said. “If he came up with something that would be secure and didn’t use Styrofoam, I don’t think it would be an issue.”

Despite this, the Selectmen did deny the request, 2-1. Gonsalves and Chair Jody Dickerson voted against it, while Steve Cushing voted for it.

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