TREMONT — The only objections voiced Monday at a Department of Marine Resources (DMR) hearing on a proposal to more than double the size of an aquaculture operation off Hardwood Island came from an owner of a nearby ocean-farming venture.
Erick Swanson, who operates a 15-acre mussel farm with his two sons under the names Mussel Bound Farms and Maine Cultured Mussels, argued that Evan Young’s proposal to enlarge his mussel farm would have an adverse effect on his family’s ability to access the moorings used for their operation. Other commercial and recreational boat traffic would be impacted as well, he added.
“It’s too much traffic in that spot,” Swanson said. “Go somewhere else. You have the whole friggin’ ocean.”
Swanson’s comment followed a similar concern expressed earlier by his attorney, Rebecca Klotzle of Curtis Thaxter in Portland. In response to Klotzle, Young maintained the concern was unwarranted.
“There’s all kinds of room to get around,” he said. “The structure is small enough that they should be able to get around.”
Young is proposing to add another 3.67 acres onto his existing 12-year-old 2.32-acre aquaculture site in Blue Hill Bay. The seafood wholesaler plans to double the number of mussel culture rafts by adding six rafts off the north side of his current site. He admitted finances would not allow the expansion to proceed quickly.
“It’s nothing that’s going to happen overnight,” he said.
Swanson’s mention of his company’s moorings prompted Tremont Harbormaster Justin Seavey to ask if the moorings were in the town’s waters. When Swanson acknowledged they were, Seavey pointed out that they were not registered with the town and that the mooring fees had not been paid.
“Just get with me, and we can take care of that,” Seavey told Swanson.
The hearing, formally known as a scoping session, is the first step to submitting an application to the DMR. Jon Lewis, who heads the DMR’s aquaculture program, laid out the steps needed before Young’s proposal could gain approval.
Young next would fill out an application for his proposed expansion, which would trigger a DMR study from which a site report would be generated. A hearing then would be held. A final decision by the DMR commissioner would take into consideration comments from the public as well as consider the effects the aquaculture proposal would have on navigation, fishing, access by riparian property owners and other criteria. Admitting this is sometimes a judgment call by the commissioner, Lewis said the key phrase used in making a decision is that a project “shall not unreasonably interfere” with any of the criteria.
Swanson’s concerns weren’t limited to his ability to access the family’s mussel farm. He also claimed that Young’s operation was improperly marked, the aquaculture rafts were drifting off the leased area, and the operation did not show up on navigational charts.
The Swansons have had their own issues regarding an attempt to renew their 10-year lease with the DMR, which has led to a lengthy delay. One of the issues has been maintaining proper markings. Klotzle asked Lewis for assurance that the renewal application was being treated by the DMR fairly and being considered with the same criteria as Young’s application would be judged.
“We just want to make sure that everything is measured by the same compliance yardstick,” Klotzle said.
Klotzle asked Young if he had considered another area for his expansion.
“I’ve considered other sites, and that’s why this is a scoping session,” he replied.
Even if Young were to submit his application this week, a backlog in applications with the DMR would prevent any immediate expansion.
“I would expect this to happen, at best, next winter,” Lewis said.