TREMONT — It took more than four years, but on Monday, Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher signed an aquaculture lease extension for a 15-acre mussel farm located off Hardwood Island in Blue Hill Bay.
Maine Cultured Mussels applied to renew its lease for a period of 10 years in December 2012. The lease was set to expire in March 2013. DMR regulations allow a lessee to continue its aquaculture operations while the DMR processes the renewal request.
After Maine Cultured applied for the renewal, the DMR received several requests for a public hearing on the application. The department convened a hearing in August 2015, nearly three years after the renewal request was filed. The DMR held a second session of the hearing in June 2016.
Friends of Blue Hill Bay, a local conservation organization, led the opposition to the lease renewal, citing the failure of the lessee and its owner, Erick Swanson of Tremont, to mark the lease site as required by Coast Guard and DMR regulations. The opponents also claimed that the company and its owner failed to keep the lease site and the shores of nearby islands free of debris and equipment used in the farming operation.
Last November, the DMR issued a proposed decision that denied the lease renewal and gave the parties 10 days to appeal. Both sides lawyered up, and last month, the DMR issued another proposed decision renewing the lease until March 25, 2020. That gave Maine Cultured Mussels a seven-year extension instead of the 10 years it had asked for. On Monday, Keliher signed the decision confirming that lease extension.
“All’s well that ends well,” Swanson said on Monday. “The commissioner made the right decision for all the right reasons.”
Friends of Blue Hill Bay still has until mid-July to seek a review of that decision in the Maine Superior Court.