TREMONT — Until they consult with the town’s attorney, Tremont’s Board of Selectmen will wait to weigh in on a 400-square foot Limited Purpose Aquaculture lease application for commercial clam cultivation in Mitchell Cove.
Several neighbors attended a Monday night meeting via Zoom to ask questions regarding the application submitted by Geoff Ghertler that has his father-in-law, Russell Bradford, as the main applicant and Ghertler and his wife as assistants. Ghertler is seeking local approval before submitting the application to the state’s Department of Marine Resources.
Town Manager Chris Saunders explained to selectmen that town attorney James Collier recommended not acting on the application until neighboring property owners were notified by the applicant.
Members of the Harbor Committee reviewed the LPA application on Feb. 25 using the Harbor Management Ordinance but were unable to come to a decision on whether or not to approve it.
In a notice to selectmen, Harbormaster Justin Seavey said the ordinance states the Harbor Committee will determine whether or not, if approved, the lease will unreasonably interfere with safe navigation, fishing and other uses as well as riparian ingress and egress. Seavey also stated that after reviewing the application he believes it will not impede with these activities because of a lack of vessel traffic, the small area of the proposed lease, its location and small footprint.
According to the Harbor Management Ordinance, the Board of Selectmen shall determine whether or not to authorize the town manager to authorize the harbormaster to approve, or disapprove, of the LPA application.
“He can submit the application without my signature,” Seavey told the board during the meeting. “The state’s going to ask why.”
The application states the area designated for clam cultivation is above the Mean Low Water mark. According to Town Manager Saunders in a memo to selectmen, “it is on private property that is in the Limited Residential Shoreland zone. Since this would change the use of that property from residential to aquaculture, I believe that would trigger Planning Board review. The Land Use Ordinance specifically prohibits aquaculture in the Limited Residential Shoreland zone, and so I anticipate that ultimately, this project will be denied.” He followed that comment by saying the board is not responsible for making that determination.
Saunders also noted the application’s lack of completeness, specifically where it asked if there is any shorefront land within 300 feet of the site. The applicant marked “no” but listed five shorefront properties in another section.
During the meeting on Monday, a neighbor also noted the application was blank in the section that asked for information regarding existing uses.
“The picture the application presents is of an unused cove, so why not set up an LPA there,” said Richard Pruhomme, referring to Mitchell Cove. “In fact, it’s used all the time; it’s been used for generations. It has all sorts of uses. Those uses are protected by both the local and state level.
“There’s a whole set of uses and set of rights that are interfered with this plot. It’s a deeply intertidal area. It’s nothing like a muddy wasteland,” he added. “This particular spot we’re talking about is right smack in the middle of all of these uses… The point is, ultimately there is a deep set of existing uses. That’s what we are interested in protecting.”
Ghertler compared the section of property to a garden during the meeting.
“In a sense, this is a section of land I’m asking to use on my property, it is intertidal, but it’s the size of a small living room. It’s 400 square feet. It’s clams that’d be growing under the soil. You wouldn’t even see them.”
He also pointed out that cultivation of clam spat in the area would benefit all users since the green crab has largely devastated the clam population in the area.
“People have been accessing this cove by going across my land,” said Ghertler.
Another neighbor explained there is an easement from Acadia National Park that allows people to access the cove through a 10-foot right of way on the property.
At that point, Board of Selectmen Chairman Jamie Thurlow stopped the conversation to say it would be put on a future agenda for a meeting at which Collier could be present.
“Let’s get this going for this guy,” said Selectman Howard ‘Howdy’ Goodman. “I really think he ought to be able to do this.”