The first of what could be as many as 5,000 oyster cages have been put in the water in Goose Cove in Trenton. ISLANDER PHOTO BY DICK BROOM

Oyster cage sites stir up complaint: Opponents allege permit violations

TRENTON — Seven years after Warren Pettegrow first revealed his plan to create a 50-acre oyster farm in Goose Cove, he has begun putting cages in the water.

But opponents of the enterprise, including the Trenton Board of Selectmen, say the first 70 or so cages are outside the areas specified in Pettegrow’s state and federal permits and that other conditions of those permits are being violated.

As he has done throughout the planning and permitting process, Pettegrow did not respond to a request for comment this week.

It has been four-and-a-half years since the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) granted Pettegrow a lease on two 25-acre tracts in Goose Cove and 17 months since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit for the oyster farm.

He has said he eventually intends to raise as many as 10 million oysters in about 5,000 cages.

Pettegrow, a lobster dealer whose family owns the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, first announced his plan for the aquaculture operation to the Trenton Board of Selectmen in September 2009. He told them that the absence of any other commercial activities in Goose Cove was among the factors that made it an attractive place for an oyster farm.

“It’s one of the only locations around here where we wouldn’t affect anyone else,” he said.

The selectmen expressed preliminary support for the project. But several dozen residents quickly formed an organization called Friends of Goose Cove and hired an attorney to help them fight the proposal. They claimed it would ruin the view of the cove, interfere with boating and lower property values. Selectmen eventually joined in opposing the project.

After weighing reams of documents and more than 20 hours of testimony from both sides, the Maine Department of Marine Resources in January 2012 granted a five-year lease on the two tracts in Goose Cove. A condition of the approval was that the Army Corps also must give its consent.

Among the objections raised by opponents was that the oyster farm, which would be located about 1.5 miles from the end of the runway at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport, would create a hazard to aviation by attracting sea birds to the area. With the support of the airport manager, they asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to recommend that the Army Corps reject Pettegrow’s application for a permit.

The Trenton selectmen and the Hancock County Commissioners sent letters to the FAA and Army Corps claiming the oyster farm would pose a significant danger to low-flying aircraft. But Pettegrow’s attorney presented the findings of a study, which he commissioned, that indicated such fears were unfounded.

In March 2015, the Army Corps issued a permit for the oyster farm.

The town of Trenton and the County Commissioners asked the Army Corps to reconsider, but without success.

Bill Stockman, who lives on Goose Cove and has been a leader of the opposition, said in an email last week, “We are now doing our best to collect information and evidence [regarding] how this type of aquaculture attracts birds and to document any ways in which he fails to conform to the DMR lease and [Army Corps] permit.”

On Wednesday, Trenton selectmen sent a letter to Jon Lewis, the DMR’s aquaculture program leader, alleging that Pettegrow is demonstrating “little respect for the restrictions in the lease … .”

“The location of the cages is not consistent with the latitude and longitude specified in the lease …,” the letter states, citing a kayaker who used GPS to compare the location of the cages with the boundaries of the leased tracks.

“He found that the cages are far from where they need to be.”

The letter, signed by Board of Selectman Chairman Fred Ehrlenbach, asks the DMR to “cause corrective action to be taken or … revoke this lease.”

In a similar letter to Christopher Barron, a district engineer with the Army Corps, the selectmen claim that Pettegrow’s “array of cages contradicts the manner that the owner proposed, leaving the cages to float at uneven intervals and to be buffeted out of formation by wind and currents.”

The selectmen also allege that Pettegrow is not using the type of bird-deterrent device that he had proposed for the oyster cages and that some cages appear to have no bird deterrents at all.

“The lack of these deterrents … [indicates] that he is not taking all available and practicable steps to discourage the attraction of seabirds to the aquaculture facility,” the letter states.

The selectmen said there have been serious concerns about the oyster farm’s potential hazard to aviation ever since Pettegrow first announced his plans.

“Seeing the actual operation underway has done nothing to calm these fears, and in fact has heightened them.”

They asked the Army Corps to “take steps to insure that this aquaculture farm complies with all aspects of your permit.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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