Large plastic Polarcirkel cages belonging to Maine Cultured Mussels moored on the company’s lease site east of Hardwood Island in Blue Hill Bay. The Department of Marine Resources plans to deny the company’s application to renew its lease to grow mussels on the site. ISLANDER PHOTO BY STEPHEN RAPPAPORT

DMR will deny mussel renewal

TREMONT — A long and tortured fight to renew an aquaculture lease for a 15-acre mussel farm east of Hardwood Island in Blue Hill Bay may have come to an end, or at least another long pause.

On Nov. 1, the Department of Marine Resources issued a “Revised Proposed Decision” in long-running proceedings relating to the application of Maine Cultured Mussels Inc. to renew its lease on the site for a period of 10 years ending in March 2023. The original lease expired in March of 2013.

The decision comes more than 23 years after the original lease was first granted, almost four years after the original lease expired and after two public hearings, one in August 2015 and another in June of this year.

The proposed denial is based on two legal conclusions: that the company did not comply with conditions of the lease during its term and that the renewal “is not in the best interest of the state.”

DMR’s action is not final. Maine Cultured Mussels and other parties to the renewal proceedings – including the nonprofit conservation group Friends of Blue Hill Bay (FOBHB) that led the opposition to the renewal – were given until Nov. 10 to file comments and propose corrections to the decision. They also will be entitled to appeal a final decision, after one is issued, to the Maine Superior Court.

FOBHB raised two principal objections, and many less significant objections, to the lease renewal.

According to the DMR, the evidence at the hearing supported a finding that Maine Cultured Mussels consistently failed to maintain proper buoys marking the lease site as required by the Coast Guard and state aquaculture leasing rules. The company also failed to keep the lease site and the surrounding waters and shores of Hardwood, Bartlett and Long islands “free of garbage,” had not “routinely collected all errant gear, equipment, and solid waste from the lease site” and had “not maintained the lease site in good order.”

Those acts and failures were violations of the original lease sufficient to warrant the department’s decision not to renew it, DMR hearing officer Diantha Robinson wrote.

Erick Swanson, the owner of Maine Cultured Mussels, refused to comment on the proposed decision in any detail.

“No comment,” Swanson said Monday afternoon. “We’ve got attorneys [the Portland law firm of Curtis Thaxter LLC] dealing with it. Other than that, no comment.”

Sally Mills, an Ellsworth attorney representing Friends of Blue Hill Bay, was less restrained.

“The question wasn’t so much whether he had breached the terms of his lease, but how seriously and how many times,” Mills said Monday afternoon. It was a matter of “basic Cub Scout stewardship,” she added.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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