PENOBSCOT — The decision by the Department of Marine Resources to approve a lease for an oyster farm in the Bagaduce River has drawn a measure of support from two vocal opponents.
Caren Plank and William McWeeny intervened in the DMR hearing and decision process as opponents to the application by Taunton Bay Oyster Co. for an aquaculture lease to grow oysters in the Bagaduce River.
DMR approved the lease, with conditions, in late September. In October, the company filed an appeal in the Kennebec County Superior Court, contesting the conditions. Shortly before Thanksgiving, Portland attorney Mary Costigan, representing Plank and McWeeney, filed an “Entry of Appearance and Position” with the court supporting the lease but asking for a “(c)larification of the decision.”
Filed more than three years ago, Taunton Bay’s application covered three separate tracts totaling 23.75 acres in the upper reaches of the river near the mouth of Northern Bay.
In September, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher granted a lease for two tracts with a total area of slightly more than 19 acres. In addition to eliminating one of the proposed tracts and reducing the area of a second by about 25 percent, the lease also prohibited setting out oyster farming gear on the reduced tract between May 1 and July 1 each year and contained other restrictions on the company’s operations.
In its appeal, Taunton Bay claimed that, “Taken as a whole,” the modifications and conditions “severely limit” its ability “to successfully operate its aquaculture business in the Bagaduce River.”
The appeal also claimed, among other issues, that the lease decision would force the company “to conduct aquaculture activities more extensively in … the lease area of greatest concern” to opponents to the lease.
It also claimed that there was no substantial evidence to support DMR’s finding that it was necessary to reduce the size of “Tract 2” so that aquaculture operations would not unreasonably interfere with small-boat navigation in the area and the rights of riparian property owners — Plank owns an island in the river just to the north of the lease site — to access their land.
DMR also erred in prohibiting dragging and hand raking to harvest oysters on the grounds that it would damage eelgrass, the company claimed, because the aquatic plant is “rare” on the site and would not be removed by harvesting activities.
In their filing, Plank and McWeeny have asked the court to modify the lease decision to ban overwintering of oysters in bottom cages on both tracts approved in the lease, not just one.
“Specifically, the decision does not address the need for any overwintering cages to be removed from Tract 2 prior to May 1st due to lobster and crab fishing,” Plank and McWeeny claim. “Although the decision does prohibit the deployment of gear on Tract 2 between May 1 and July 1, the discussion of said prohibition in the decision relates to floating bags and not to overwintering cages.”
In addition to requesting a modification of the lease, Plank and McWeeny also are asking the court to deny Taunton Bay’s appeal.