Neighbors nervous about oyster plans

BAR HARBOR — Some shoreline property owners are concerned about plans for a new oyster farm between Israel Point and Thomas Island. The aquaculture lease application submitted to the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) by Jesse Fogg and Joanna Walls was circulated this month to the town of Bar Harbor, National Park Service, the Bar Harbor Harbormaster and other agencies for review and comment.

The proposed lease site is near Thundermist Road, resident Rebecca Richardson said. “These oyster farms are loud, intrusive and do great damage to the flora of the area and shoreline,” she said. “The noise from the seven-day-a-week power washing, the increased bird activity, the damage to shore eelgrass and the inability to boat or kayak in our own front yards is simply not fair.”

The DMR has not yet scheduled a public hearing on the lease application. A preliminary “scoping session” public meeting in January did not draw many neighbors.

“I can see both sides of it,” said John Bennett, harbormaster in Trenton, where similar debates have flared in the last few years. “It can cost the applicant a lot of time and money to get the government to give you an answer. If the proposed business were on land, the business owner would have to go through the planning board and the land use ordinance. This is a different process. People own shorefront homes, and politics can get really personal when it’s in your own backyard.”

Jane Disney of the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory has been working on eelgrass restoration in Frenchman Bay for several years. “People do talk about oyster aquaculture being good for water quality because they’re filter feeders, and you need good transparency for eelgrass. But floating cages also could shade out eelgrass or sit on the bottom on top of eelgrass.

“We’ve already lost all that eelgrass up there in the upper bay,” she said. “There’s very little left in the way of organic matter to seed the system. It could be that material from the farm enriches everything up there. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.” Ongoing monitoring of environmental quality at aquaculture lease sites would be helpful, she said.

Town councilors expressed support for the application at their June 16 meeting. They asked Walls about cleanup in the event that the oyster farm ceases operations. She said the oyster cages are a significant investment and would be sold if the farm shut down.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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